By JOHN FLEMING
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001
TAMPA -- As listeners learned five years ago when GALA, the festival of gay and lesbian choruses, was held in Tampa, these ensembles are making powerful, innovative music and they're commissioning works that go beyond core subject matter like relationships and AIDS.
One of the most ambitious is Sing for the Cure, an opus on breast cancer, given a passionate performance Sunday afternoon by a combined chorus of about 100 voices from the Tampa Bay Gay Men's Chorus and Crescendo: the Tampa Bay Women's Chorus in Ferguson Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. John-Philip Mullinax conducted, with a sizable orchestra, a pianist and a harpist.
Sing for the Cure consists of a prelude and 10 songs, each by a different composer, with narration and lyrics by Pamela Martin. While much of the music is deeply conventional -- from the Mahlerian percussive bursts of Who Will Speak (composed by Michael Cox) to the mild dissonance of Borrowed Time (Alice Gomez) to the blatant borrowing of the tune of My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music in Valse Caprice (Patti Drennan) to the gospel duet of Groundless Ground (W.T. Greer III) to the weepy violin solo -- it still packed punch.
There wasn't a dry eye in the house when the chorus launched into the swelling refrain of The Promise Lives On (Rosephanye Powell), representing the voice of a breast cancer patient's supportive spouse, or the sisterly duet, Girl in the Mirror (Stefania de Kennessey), sung by Kim Tonione and Roberta Van DerMeulen.
With artistic direction by Sunny Hall, the performance was enhanced by interviews projected on screens flanking the stage, with breast cancer survivors Diana Rose and Roseanne Boyd, whose husband, Stuart, was also interviewed. The interviews were well coordinated with the music, and the women's stories were brave, funny, inspiring and deeply moving. Narrative segments were read by Cynthia Salmons, Hazel Vanderford and Linda DeMontigny.
At almost two hours long, without intermission, Sing for the Cure could stand a trim here or there, but Sunday's excellent performance made a case for the song cycle as something more universal than a disease-specific work. Even audience members with no involvement with breast cancer were swept up in the emotion of it.
A portion of the proceeds from the concert went to the Tampa Bay affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which commissioned Sing for the Cure for the gay and lesbian choruses of Dallas, where it premiered a year ago. According to the foundation, 10,000 women in the bay area were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past five years.
Sing for the Cure is scheduled to be performed again in October, breast cancer awareness month, at Ruth Eckerd Hall.