British actor John Rhys-Davies 'flies' during Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 4:35 p.m. MST

John Rhys-Davies and Robin Dick fly above the audience as they perform "A Dickens Christmas" during a Christmas concert at the Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. John Rhys-Davies plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and Robin Dick plays Charles Dickens.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Some insiders promised this year’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert would surpass even last year’s spectacle, which dramatized the story of World War II-era “candy bomber” Gail Halversen. Audience members will have to judge that, but one thing is certain: While last year’s show included candy dropped with parachutes, this year’s had actors floating in the air.

The aerial segment came in the second half of the program with guest artist and British character actor John Rhys-Davies, portraying the Ghost of Christmas Present from Charles Dickens’ famous novel “A Christmas Carol.” The ghost conducted Dickens himself (actor Robin Dick) above 19th century London at night (actually, the audience seated on the main level of the LDS Conference Center).

Based on the true story of how Dickens came to write the novel, the segment conveyed the message that the author himself, looking for quick earnings to make ends meet during a downturn in his writing career, created an enduring classic that has filled the hearts of millions — including Dickens himself — with the Christmas message of love and goodwill.

The entire program had a Dickens feel, with costumed dancers filling a fog-enshrouded stage during the opening segments as the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed the English carol “Christmas Is Coming” and conductor Mack Wilberg’s composition, “On This Merriest Christmas Day.”

Operatic soprano Deborah Voigt was the other guest artist for the concert, which opened Thursday with a public dress rehearsal and continued tonight with the first of two performances. The final performance will be Saturday at 8 p.m.

Voigt enthralled her audience with renditions of Bach’s “Magnficat” and “Et exsultavit spiritus meus,” as well as a medley of popular Yuletide tunes and a haunting performance of “Coventry Carol.”

Dancing, which has become an integral part of the concert, included a Russian ballet segment with music from Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.

The Bells on Temple Square were showcased appropriately enough with a performance of “Ring."

At a Friday morning news conference, Rhys-Davies was asked about his aerial acting.

“Well, as the (Royal Air Force) used to say, a good landing is one you can walk away from,” he joked.

“I used to fly airplanes myself, so being above the ground doesn’t worry me too much. Basically, theater or film is a dangerous industrial environment. You depend … on the skills and ability of those around you to protect you ….

“And you do get that wonderful, ‘Yippee!’ sort of sensation. I think it’s great fun." Turning to Voigt, he said, “You ought to try it sometime.”

“No, that’s OK, I’ll sing right here on the ground,” she said.

Both artists shared their admiration for the choir organization and for the venue in which they performed.

“I have followed this organization and this respected institution for many, many years,” said Voigt who grew up with a church choral background, as many opera performers do. “When I got the call I had been invited to participate, it was very thrilling to me.”

She said she knew she would be well taken care of when choir president Ron Jarrett and conductor Mack Wilberg traveled to meet with her personally and discussed the repertoire she might sing at the concert.

“The first time I walked in here and saw the vastness of this center, I couldn’t believe it,” she exclaimed. “You don’t get the same impression when you see it on television or in pictures.”

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