Saturated in emotion, soloists from the cast of Omar joined members of the Spoleto Festival USA Chorus for a series of spirituals telling stories of despair and hope for a one-time evening performance on June 1at the Gaillard Center.

Dressed in formal concert attire, the ensemble encircled the audience to sing “Anyhow,” before taking the stage for a series of solos accompanied by pianist Brandon Waddles. With each piece, the mood in the room began to lift until it felt like sitting in church on Sunday morning. The performers weren’t just singing, but worshiping with raised arms and tears in their eyes.  

The 90-minute production included 18 pieces packed with stunning tone and technique. Familiar faces from the cast of Omar took the stage, including Jamez McCorkle who plays Omar. Cheers greeted him as he walked on stage with his left foot in a medical boot and began to sing “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” His voice filled the theater without a microphone, powerful and saturated in emotion, as he perfectly combined operatic techniques with soulful runs. Receiving a standing ovation from many in the audience, his performance was a highlight of the night. 

Daniel Rich then took the stage with a powerful, tear-jerking rendition of Andrae Crouch’s “My Tribute.” A baritone soloist, Rich’s tone is round and soulful, effortlessly guiding us along with him. Met with raised hands, applause, and “Amens” throughout, his belts received the second standing ovation of the night. 

Spirituals performed with operatic techniques present the stories in a new way, but tend to separate the music from the message. In some cases, the overly rounded vowels and exaggerated vibrato was distracting until an impossibly high note was belted with ease,  erasing negative thoughts.

Waddles’s accompaniment ebbed and flowed with the performers coming and going onstage. Finishing with the entire ensemble, they sang “Total Praise” with an encore of the chorus added during a third standing ovation. Performers and audience members collectively wiped away tears and stayed standing for the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Completing the arch from despair to hope, there is something in singing about the act of singing that is so powerful it led to applause that never seemed to end. 

Nat Bono  is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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