The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas concerts have been one of the hottest tickets in town for several years. Now the choir's annual Pioneer Day program appears to be shaping up as a summertime version of that wintertime extravaganza.
Recent editions of the July production have featured stars such as the Osmond family and Broadway superstars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Linda Eder. This year's program was light on the pioneer fare, but that didn't seem to bother the Conference Center crowd. The guest, Welsh crossover star Katherine Jenkins, charmed the multitude with her renditions of show tunes, a Welsh hymn and an opera standard.
Besides singing in four languages, Jenkins who danced her way to second place on "Dancing With the Stars" last spring treated Friday's audience to a snappy paso doble with her "DWTS" partner, ballroom pro Mark Ballas. (Those who have tickets to tonight's performance will have to wait until the program turns up on KBYU to see the dance.)
The choir opened the program, dubbed "The Joy of Song," with a pair of hymns paying tribute to the 1847 Mormon pioneers. Then, after brief remarks from announcer Lloyd Newell about the sustaining power of song on the westward journey, it was farewell to the pioneers and hello to Broadway.
Jenkins' dark, chocolaty mezzo blended well with the choir on tunes such as "I Could Have Danced All Night" (from "My Fair Lady") and "You'll Never Walk Alone" (from "Carousel"). The choir also provided an ideal partner to Jenkins on the David Foster hit "The Prayer" and the "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen."
Jenkins noted the Tabernacle Choir's strong Welsh roots and asked, by a show of hands, which of the present choir members have Welsh ancestry. Nearly every hand went up. The ensuing performance of the Welsh patriotic hymn "Cymru fach (Dearest Wales)," with Jenkins enjoying "the support of my extended family," was the singer's strongest of the evening.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir showed its customary professionalism and precision, even adding some choreographed hand claps to a performance of the Sephardic wedding song "¡Ah, el novio no quere dinero!" The Orchestra at Temple Square gave strong support. Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy provided expert direction.
But, as is so often the case at the Christmas concerts, it was organist Richard Elliott who nearly stole the show. Elliott's bravura performance of the famed Toccata from Widor's Organ Symphony No. 5 here transformed into a choral anthem by David Willcocks earned the first standing ovation of the night. Perhaps next year he'll get a full-fledged solo.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The choir and Orchestra at Temple Square present their annual Pioneer Day concert.
With • Mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins.
Where • LDS Conference Center, across North Temple from Salt Lake City's Temple Square.
When • Reviewed Friday, July 20; repeats Saturday, July 21, at 8 p.m.
Running time • About 80 minutes; no intermission.
Tickets • The free event is officially sold out, but there were many empty seats Friday night. It's well worth trying your luck in the standby line, which forms at the north gate of Temple Square.