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Soloist: Tabernacle Choir 'has heart'

Robert Breault, who sang the tenor solo in Hector Berlioz' "Requiem" during the Tabernacle Choir's tour to Israel, is accustomed to performing with musicians who know their art. He has sung with operas in more than a dozen cities in the United States, toured with the San Francisco Opera and has been featured in Paris.

After performing with the choir and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the 29-year-old tenor could barely contain his enthusiasm for the "amateur" singers with whom he shared concert stages. Pressed to describe the difference between singing with the Tabernacle Choir and a professional opera company, he replied: "This group has heart. That's something you can't get from performers by paying them. I've never felt so much love and support while on stage. It's almost like they were holding me up, willing me to succeed."Dr. Breault, who has a doctorate in music from the University of Michigan and is on the music faculty at the University of Utah, was practically a last-minute addition to the Tabernacle Choir tour. He was brought on board after the tenor with whom the Jerusalem Symphony was negotiating had to bow out because of prior commitments when an additional concert in Tel Aviv was added to the tour.

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra's management conducted an international search for a tenor to sing the solo, "Sanctus," the prayer of a priest in Berlioz' "Requiem," a Catholic mass.

Tabernacle Choir director Jerold Ottley, in the meantime, had asked Dr. Breault if he would sing the solo for the choir's Christmas concert and a broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word."

As the date for the tour approached and the symphony's management still had not found a suitable soloist, Brother Ottley suggested they consider "a very fine, although quite young, tenor" living in Salt Lake City who already knew the part. The symphony management negotiated with his agent in Toronto, and he was hired in late November to sing the solo on the choir's tour in Israel.

The decision, apparently, was a good one. Israeli music critics - renowned for their harshness and bluntness - wrote favorably of his performances. The critic for the Jerusalem Post wrote: "One moment stood out. The tenor solo in `Sanctus' touched Berlioz' vision of redemption. With a voice as pure as the dawn, Robert Breault broke through the ordinary to behold the supernal light."

A critic for a Hebrew newspaper wrote: "Tenor Robert Breault's soft lyrical voice, rhythmical accuracy and spiritual depth made an important contribution to the performance." Another observed: "The tenor, Robert Breault, seemed to be praying, with musical concentration, while singing `Sanctus.' " And yet another critic noted: "Although Robert Breault has a small tenor, it is entirely poetical."

Dr. Breault, a native of Wisconsin, and his wife, Julia, from England, moved to Salt Lake City in August 1992. Their first contact with the city was on their honeymoon in June 1991, as they traveled cross country by train and made a 24-hour stop in Utah. Later, when they were trying to decide where to live, Mrs. Breault suggested Salt Lake City. "I didn't think it would be a good move for me professionally," he said. "I jokingly asked, `Who will I sing with, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?' Ironically, here we are."

The Breaults moved to Utah when he was hired for the position of director of opera/professor of voice at the University of Utah. The move, he said, was the best decision of his career. He described his opportunity to travel and sing with the choir as "a great step up the ladder."

He commented on the crossing of cultural and religious barriers with the performance of "Requiem" by Berlioz: "We had a Mormon choir, singing a Catholic mass to a predominately Jewish audience. I was the only Catholic on stage."

Dr. Breault said he and his wife, a member of the Church of England, felt at home traveling with the Tabernacle Choir. "We've been made to feel welcome in Salt Lake City and by members of the choir in particular," he said. "Friends ask, `What's it like living among the Mormons?' When I answer, I'm proselyting for the LDS Church because I'm saying how wonderful the people are, how welcome we are made to feel, and how much we enjoy living in Utah. We don't feel at all like outsiders in any way. We feel we've made a thousand friends."

Dr. Breault said a Tabernacle Choir album helped foster his love for music. As a boy, he confided, his biggest fantasy was to sing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with the Tabernacle Choir. "That's still my biggest fantasy," he said. "I'm serious. I'm tempted to slip into the tenor section and sing along with them. Maybe, someday, I can."