`Incredible,' says guest soloist of Tabernacle Choir

As guest soloist on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's seven-country European tour June 12-July 2, Robert Breault found himself in an interesting juxtaposition of religion and geography.

A member of the Catholic Church living in Salt Lake City, he sang beloved LDS hymns as well as selections from masses of his own faith in some of the world's renowned concert venues, including Vatican City.Having earned his master's and doctoral degrees in vocal performance from the University of Michigan, he is professor of voice and director of opera at the University of Utah. He has performed more than a hundred times with major symphony orchestras such as Montreal, Atlanta, Utah, Jerusalem and San Francisco. He also has performed with leading opera companies in North America.

On tour with the Tabernacle Choir, Dr. Breault sang the tenor solo in "the Gloria" from Puccini's "Messa di Gloria," or Mass of Glory.

At each concert, he took the lead in singing two musical offerings that have become standards in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: "Come, Come, Ye Saints" and "I Am a Child of God." In both, he sang the first verses in the languages of the countries on the tour: English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

So skillful and musically articulate was he in his performances of the LDS works that members of the audiences were frequently observed with tears in their eyes. Without doubt, he touched hearts and stirred souls.

This was his fourth tour with the Tabernacle Choir. He was a soloist on the choir's tour of Israel in late December 1992 and early January 1993. In the summer of 1993, he performed with the Tabernacle Choir at Jackson Hole, Wyo. In the summer of 1995, he performed with the choir at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at St. John the Divine in New York City. He has recorded "An American Requiem" with the choir, and has been a featured singer in various other musical offerings by the choir.

Dr. Breault and his wife, Julia, moved to Salt Lake City in 1992. They discovered it for themselves while taking a honeymoon train trip across the United States when their train stopped for a brief time and they took a quick tour by taxi. The new Mrs. Breault liked what she saw and suggested that they make it their home. Dr. Breault, a native of Wisconsin, was just beginning his career as an opera singer. He didn't think the move would be a good one for him professionally. "If we move to Salt Lake City," he asked, "who will I sing with - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?"

Apparently, yes.

While he has continued to perform with well-established opera companies across the United States and oratorios in Europe, his appearances with the Tabernacle Choir have taken him to several concert halls of renown. On the last tour, the choir featured him in London's Royal Albert Hall, Brussels' Palais des Beaux Arts; Geneva's Victoria Hall; and Turin's L'Auditorium Giovanni Angelli (Lingoto Center), as well as Accademia Santa Caecilia, about two blocks from St. Peter's, among the most revered edifices of the Catholic faith. Other concert sites on the last tour were La Dome, in Marseille, France; Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, Spain; the Basilica at El Escorial, Spain; Audiotorio Nacional, Madrid, Spain; and Coliseu in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Breault said that a lot of his operatic colleagues express some curiosity over his singing with the choir. "A lot of singers will ask me, How is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Is it just a great big church choir?' I say,No. It's an incredible choir. I've sung with a lot of professional - paid - choirs. The Tabernacle Choir is by far the best in terms of not only its sound, musicality, professionalism and polish, but more important, it's the most supportive and spirited group of human beings I've worked with musically, period.

"It was a tremendous honor for Julia and me to be included in such a special and extensive trip. The experiences were some of the best in my life, not only musically but also personally. My feeling is that the choir is tremendously well prepared and obviously talented, but the spirit that drives these singers is what impresses me the most and, obviously, what made the audiences jump to their feet at every concert."

Dr. Breault described the tour as a "trip that will last a lifetime in our memories."

On singing LDS hymns and songs, he said, "Whenever I pick up a piece of music, any new piece, I research in-depth what it is about. The benefit that I had that many people in the choir didn't was that I was interpreting them for the first time. It's very easy to be inspired by such beautiful, meaningful poetry. The music, even though hymns, transcends national boundaries very easily. I created what was new and personal to me. If in sharing that, the audience is moved, there is no greater service an artist can do."

Dr. Breault was high in his praise for the professionalism of the Tabernacle Choir. After performances in Turin and Rome, he said that the Italian audiences likely had never heard "Puccini sung so cleanly, with such strength and tremendous musicality. They could not possibly have heard it any better than how it was done by the Tabernacle Choir."

At dinner in Lisbon before the choir's final concert on the tour, Dr. Breault told the singers: "My career is a young one; I've performed for the last 10 years or so. I haven't performed with thousands of choruses or orchestras, but probably with well over a hundred - enough to know that, musically, this has got to be one of the best experiences I've ever had, hands down. . . . There has been nothing that has ever compared to this for me. Obviously, I'm singing with not only the best choir that I've ever sung with but with what I think is not only the best choir in the United States but also the whole world. You are one of the most incredible sounds. Your audiences [have been] telling you what they think every single time. I don't think European audiences . . . just jump up and scream with every chorus or orchestra that comes to town, as they have done at your concerts. That's been wonderful to see. I'm glad that people are acknowledging that they're hearing one of the world's finest choirs. . . . Julia and I . . . honor you for who you are. We respect you. . . . We feel very special to have been part of the best journey we have ever taken."

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