Heights’ Charlotte Merkerson gives ‘Too Hot to Handle’ smoldering high praise

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Merkerson
Charlotte Merkerson of Dearborn Heights has been with the Michigan Opera Theater Orchestra for 33 years, 31 of them as concertmaster.

By Phyllis
For Charlotte Merkerson of Dearborn Heights, concertmaster of the Michigan Opera Theater, the Dec. 1 performance of Dirty Dog Jazz Café’s “Too Hot to Handel” will be a “wonderful, soul-stirring masterpiece.”

The MOT and Rackham Symphony Choir will perform the jazzy version of Handel’s “Messiah” at 7:30 p.m. at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway in Detroit.

“The season for me is soulful and stirring,” Merkerson said. “Handel is a real highlight of the season, articulating the spirit of the season with music that inspires not just me, but every musician that I have had the pleasure of working alongside.”

Merkerson, 64, has found harmony in her 31 years as MOT concertmaster — the orchestra’s principal violinist — as well as with her Dearborn Heights home. Her love for music came at a young age. With the support and sacrifices of her working mother, Merkerson was able to study the violin from the time she was in Elementary school.

After graduation, like many young artists, she set out for New York. Her heart still in Michigan, Merkerson returned home, graduated from the Wayne State University School of Music, and in time made her home in Dearborn Heights.

Highlights of her career include the role of concertmaster for Luciano Pavarotti and the Three Tenors at Tiger Stadium in 1999 and, of course, “Too Hot to Handel.”

The production of “Too Hot to Handel” features the voices of tenor Rodrick Dixon, formerly of the Three Mo’ Tenors; soprano Alfreda Burke; and alto Karen Marie Richardson in addition to the Rackham Symphony Choir. The Too Hot to Handel Orchestra boasts an all-star ensemble of Detroit jazz legends — Marion Hayden, Alvin Waddles, Dave Taylor and Chris Collins — as well as members of the MOT Orchestra.

Merkerson sang the praises of Rackham conductor Suzanne Mallare Acton, as well as Waddles and his distinct stage presence as she spoke enthusiastically about everyone’s contribution to the production.

“Susan Acton is a brilliant musician who wears many hats for the Detroit Opera Theater, so when she’s given the opportunity to conduct it is a real pleasure to work under her baton,” Merkerson said. “She is fun and has so much enthusiasm that her passion becomes contagious for everyone on stage.

“Alvin Waddles, Mother Waddle’s grandson, is a natural, vibrant show unto himself. Every year Alvin has a chance to solo and he amazes even the musicians with his humor and unparallelled stage presence.”

Tickets to the performance range from $20 to $68 with discounts for groups of 10 or more, and are available at the Detroit Opera House box office, online at www.MichiganOpera.org or by calling 313-237-SING. A free pre-concert chat with the artists starts at 6:30 p.m.

Students and groups are invited to attend a dress rehearsal, sponsored by the DTE Energy Foundation, at 11 a.m. Friday. Tickets for groups of 10 or more are $10 for students in grade 12 and under, $20 for college students and $25 for adults. Individual tickets are $15 for students in grade 12 and under, $25 for college students and $35 for adults.

For more information on the dress rehearsal, including a study guide for music educators, go to www.rackhamchoir.org.