How to follow up a surprise appearance by a genuine American hero and candy falling from the sky? Apparently, for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Last year’s Christmas extravaganza dazzled the LDS Conference Center crowds with the story of “Candy Bomber” (and Salt Lake City native) Gail Halvorsen, capped with a re-enactment of his special deliveries. On Friday, the 20,000-plus concertgoers — who represented a quarter of the total anticipated audience for the event’s multinight run — gasped with delight as two actors playing Charles Dickens and one of his beloved characters flew out over the audience.
Guest artist John Rhys-Davies, best-known these days as Gimli the dwarf in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, captivated the crowd as he told of the experiences that inspired Dickens to write “A Christmas Carol.” The narrative took a fanciful turn when Rhys-Davies donned a green robe and assumed the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present, leading Dickens (played by Robin Dick) on a nighttime excursion across Britain.
Much of the evening had a British flavor, thanks to Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg’s arrangements of English carols such as “Christmas Is Coming” and “The Holly and the Ivy.” Wilberg’s arrangement of the beloved Coventry Carol, performed unaccompanied by the choir and opera superstar Deborah Voigt, was particularly lovely.
Though best-known for her portrayals of Wagner and Strauss heroines, Voigt also has had success as a crossover artist. Some opera singers can’t shake a stilted stiffness when singing more popular fare, but not Voigt — her rendition of “The Twelve Days After Christmas” was one of the evening’s highlights.
Wilberg, associate music director Ryan Murphy and the choir showed their versatility, too, handling selections from the Bach Magnificat and “Ring Those Christmas Bells” with equal panache. (The Bells on Temple Square made a charming appearance on the latter selection.) And the Orchestra at Temple Square got a turn in the spotlight, performing the Dance of the Tumblers from Tchaikovsky’s “The Snow Maiden.”
Once again, organist Richard Elliott came dangerously close to stealing the show with a new solo arrangement. This year, he embellished “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” with marches from “Babes in Toyland” and “The Nutcracker” — and, in a dazzling display of pedal work, “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
P The annual Christmas extravaganza.
With • Soprano Deborah Voigt, narrator John Rhys-Davies, organist Richard Elliott, conductors Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, the Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square.
When • Reviewed Friday.
Running time • 90 minutes; no intermission.
Also • Live broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” with short concert to follow, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
Where • LDS Conference Center, 60 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • Free. All have been distributed, but a standby line forms at the north gate of Temple Square.