By Daniel Buckwalter

French music filled the stage on Nov. 12 at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, and it added color to a beautiful fall day.

The occasion was the season-opening concert of Eugene Vocal Arts with the Eugene Concert Orchestra under the direction of Diane Retallack — La Fête Française — before an appreciative audience that featured spritely vignettes as well as poetry put to music by Claude Debussy, and after intermission the majestic and sacred St. Cecilia Mass by Charles Gounod.

The first half of the program had the “French party” atmosphere Retallack was aiming for, and the most fun parts of it were arias from operas: Le roi d’Ys (the King of Ys) with guest tenor soloist Matthew Greenblatt; the Doll aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) with guest soprano soloist Brooklyn Snow; and the Toreador song from Carmen with guest baritone soloist Zachary Lenox.

Greenblatt and Lenox were commanding in their short arias, but the scene stealer was Snow in the Doll aria. She was carried by Greenblatt over his shoulder and gently placed on stage, bent over with her arms stiffly spread. From there, Greenblatt stood behind her and made exaggerated turns to wind up the doll, and Snow was off and singing.

In fact, she was off and singing while wearing a doll-like yellow dress with a white shirt and white gloves as well as hideously tall (and hot pink) high heels. I confess I was a touch nervous that Snow would tip over in those shoes. Fortunately, she never had far to walk. She carried off the aria with aplomb before Greenblatt arrived to carry her back off stage to applause.

Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass — Messe solennelle en L’honneur de Sainte-Cécile — pays homage to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and one of seven women commemorated by name in the Roman Canon.

She was deeply trusting in her religious beliefs and fearless in the face of death as a martyr for those beliefs after being struck in the neck three times with a sword in 230 AD at the age of 50. The legend is that she lived for three days afterward, and she was elevated to sainthood by the Catholic church late in the fifth century.

The mass is scored for three soloists, choir and orchestra, and it is beautiful. If you have a chance to listen to it, please do. You will be glad you did.

La Fête Française was an energetic start to Eugene Concert Choir’s 49th season. You can hear the choir again on Dec. 10 at the Hult Center for its annual holiday concert, titled A Merry Olde English Christmas, with information and tickets available at