There’s a longstanding oratorio tradition of using young boys to fill soprano roles. These days that practice is no longer as common, but on Sunday, Dec. 4, 8-year-old Joshua Roundy of Nassau will bring that tradition back with a soprano solo in a performance of “Messiah.”
“I feel really good and I feel a little rush inside as I practice with the choir,” said Roundy.
Christian Arts International, Inc. is presenting its holiday “Messiah” performance, the 31st of its kind, featuring Christian Arts Community Choir, Phoenicia Community Choir and Metropolitan Opera Baritone Louis Otey.
“It’s so wonderful to go back to an earlier tradition [of using boy sopranos],” said Otey. “The purity of a male soprano, those boys just have a very innocent and piercing attractive sound. It’s quite different, quite wonderful.”
Sylivia L. Kutchukian, president of Latham-based Christian Arts, said as soon as she heard Roundy sing, she knew he’d be perfect for a solo.
“Here we have an opera singer, a youngster who might be a prodigy, it’s just so beautiful to see the way this whole group is evolving,” said Kutchukian.
Christian Arts is a non-denominational organization that gives local artists of all types a spiritual outlet for their creative expression. Kutchukian founded it after stints as an opera singer in Egypt and teaching music at a few colleges.
“I’m a musician, I like art and I like to encourage people who are in the arts to give them a platform to express their art where they wouldn’t have other opportunities,” said Kutchukian. “They can really express their arts freely. … We train them and they go back to their own communities and they train others, so we train them to be trainers.”
The holiday performance of “Messiah,” written by George Friderick Handel, is just one of the community events Christian Arts presents, but for Kutchukian it’s the most important.
“It has personal meaning to me because it goes back to when I was 14 years old when I first sang in the choir living in Alexandria, Egypt,” said Kutchukian. “It’s the gospel to me. It’s the gospel of the truth of Jesus Christ and it’s my way of spreading the gospel through this masterpiece.”
This year’s rendition has bloomed into something special, said Kutchukian, because of the caliber of talent she was able to attract. Otey has sung opera professionally for 35 years around world and agreed to travel from Phoenicia to lend his baritone voice.
“It’s my privilege to participate. I’m very honored I was asked to do it,” said Otey, who had his first opera role at age 19. “I think it’ll be a great thing for the community and I hope people will come out and hear it.”
Otey said he feels a connection to Christian Arts and its mission and hopes to build Capital District musical relationships.
“I think the organization that she’s put together in Albany is a very worthwhile organization and stands for the right things,” said Otey. “Albany is our state capitol and we have started a music festival down here in Phoenicia so there’s lots of reasons we want to be connected.”
Though he’s spent time in famous theaters from New York City to Australia, he said he’s looking forward to the intimate community atmosphere Christian Arts will provide.
“Just the chance to sing this great piece with other like-minded people … I think it’ll be a great deal of fun and it’s just great when you get together with other people and do something that’s uplifting and happy and joyful and celebratory,” said Otey.
He’ll be making the trip north with his wife and her Phoenicia Community Choir just two days before the performance and later in the month, he’ll perform “Messiah” again back home just before Christmas.
“’Messiah’ is one of the most uplifting pieces I think exists in classical music, especially oratorio and the choral words in conjunction with soloists,” said Otey. “It’s time proven.”
Roundy said he’s been singing since he was 6 but has never performed in an opera.
“I’ve never been in a performance like this before. I’m in between nervous and excited. I had to practice lots and it’s difficult and it’s also nice to be able to do something this exciting,” said Roundy.
He’s gotten the bulk of his singing experience in his church choir.
“I started singing in [the choir] and then people in my church started complimenting me and it kind of just took off,” said Roundy.
He said he doesn’t know why he likes to sing, he “just does,” and he’s hoping to master opera and pop music.
“Messiah” will be performed at St. Pius Catholic Church at 23 Crumitie Rd. in Loudonville on Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. Tickets are sold at the door and are $15 general admission, $10 for seniors and $7 for youth and teens. People interested in reserving tickets can call Kutchukian at 459-3152.