By Chris Marchand
Rita Chiarelli’s voice is a terrifyingly beautiful place, a golden cavern carpeted in diamond shards, the sad skeletons of old bluesmen strewn about, vibrating in sound as the air rushes over their bones.
The haunting and gritty voice of this elder stateswoman of the Canadian blues and roots scene was elevated in its sophistication in a very special way by the accompaniment of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO), at a Dryden Entertainment Series event, Dec. 1.
This was no more evident than in two Italian-language selections sung by Chiarelli. For a vastly English-speaking audience, it was a chance to leave the nuance of words behind and focus solely on her voice as a powerfully expressive musical instrument.
Side-effects included paralysis. I was utterly spellbound during these moving excursions into her culture’s native tongue — a true highlight of the evening.
Not to say that Chiarelli’s blues and roots offerings were any less satisfying, especially owing to the presence of a professional orchestra. A live contemporary musical performance that allowed for the kind of complex layering usually reserved for the recording process was a novel experience to say the least.
Also impressive was the sense of respect and restraint that Musical Director Arthur Post’s orchestra afforded in its treatment of the blues tradition and Chiarelli’s own material — interesting musical territory for classical musicians to wade into.
A trip into the blues was a great opportunity for the TBSO to dip into other irreverent territory with numbers seemingly pulled from the golden age of cinema and the swing era.
After capping off the night with her version of the blues classic The Thrill Is Gone, Chiarelli gave orchestra the last word with a sing-a-long version of the holiday carol White Christmas.
The Dryden Entertainment Series will welcome another Thunder Bay-based musical institution, The Fort William Male Choir, for a special performance Friday, Dec. 16. As the concert was only recently added to the series, tickets must be purchased separately.