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Concert Review: DSSO and LOON combine to raise holiday spirits

At one point during the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's "White Christmas" pop concert on Saturday afternoon, conductor Dirk Meyer checked in with the audience to see how high our holiday spirits were on a scale of 1 to 10. Meyer promised to work on getting the few 5s up with those at 7, 8 and beyond.

Musically the program was essentially divided into sacred and secular halves, beginning "Around the World at Christmas Time," a medley of traditional songs beginning with "O Tannebaum" and ending with a particularly stirring "Go Tell It On the Mountain."

Joining the DSSO for the festivities were sopranos Vicki Fingalson and Sarah Lawrence, baritone Cal Metts, and tenor John Pierce from Lyric Opera of the North, who sure sounded like more than four voices singing "Do You Hear What I Hear." When they stepped forward for the final "listen to what I say" verse I actually got chills.

Pierce sang "The First Noel" like he was telling the story for the first time, while Fingalson delivered a glorious big note at the end for my favorite carol, "O Holy Night." Meyer included one of his favorite pieces, "Festive Sounds of Hanukkah," followed by an instrumental version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" that made it sound like a dance tune.

Pierce and Metts turned "Ev'ry Valley" from the "Messiah" in to a duet, a reminder that Handel's masterpiece is not just for Easter time. The back and forth before their voices entwined was quite nice, but then there was a moment when their backgrounds overwhelmed them and they started singing melodies from different operas (clearly, these guys embrace the LOON name).

Who knew Handel wrote "Shave and a Haircut"? Not me.

The first act finished with "Celtic Nativity," which featured all four singers and dancer Suzie Baer as a "shepherdess/angel/leprechaun." This was a medley were the songs are largely unknown, but make pretty good first impressions. Baer ushered the singers together for the big finish and the medley's most recognizable tune.

The second half began with "'The Polar Express' Suite," for something contemporary, and we could imagine a stop at an inn in Vermont so Metts could sing "White Christmas." The arrangement's introduction set up his entrance in costume, and using his higher baritone range, Metts set up a very nice high note at the end.

Appearing in new gowns complete with sashes, Fingalson and Lawrence's "Gesu Bambino" was the loveliest musical moment in the concert , their voices blending beautifully. The instrumental version of Jule Styne's "Let it Snow" had a bossa nova beat, while Lawrence's "Christmas Song," accompanied by more dancing by Baer, ended with another nice high note, gently modulated back to earth.

"Rudolph, Bells & Holly" covered some more holiday favorites, with the quartet doing some soft shoe to "Rudolph" and Meyer letting loose his inner Till Eulenspiegel to start tossing snow on the singers.

The concert's finale was provided by the "Christmas Festival" medley, with checked off some more boxes on the holiday music checklist and had not one but two big finishes, with "Jingle Bells" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." After a quick curtain call we were treated to an encore of "Sleigh Ride," complete with twirling double basses (that I think had tails on them!).

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