BWW Reviews: Triumphal March to Brilliance - Verdi's REQUIEM at San Diego Opera
Otello. Aida. Don Carlo.
A chilling Dies Irae that evokes the wind-and rain-lashed Cyprian coast. A Requiem Aeternam that conjures fronds of papyrus bending over an Egyptian stream and the gossamer fabric of Egyptian priestesses' garb. A Domine Jesu Christe that replicates the atmosphere of Numi Pietà. An Agnus Dei accompanied by three ethereal flutes. A Lacrymosa that evokes the poignant confused cries of two anti-monarchal Spaniards.
The comparisons are irresistible. Though Verdi's Requiem is not an opera, whispers of Falstaff, murmurs of Aida, power-soaked reminders of Don Carlo, infuse this work with shimmering elicitations of Verdi's unprecedented body of work. Nonetheless this masterpiece stands on its own, reaching beyond the annals of operatic literature, to meld the drama of opera and the monumental power of a religious experience.
In the hushed cathedral of San Diego's Civic Center, as if transformed for one magical evening into the church of San Marco in Milan where the Requiem premiere took place, a packed audience hung on every note and nuance emitting from the combined forces of the San Diego Symphony, massive San Diego Opera Chorus and San Diego Master Chorale, and four astonishing soloists whose artistic prowess outweighed their considerable combined star power. This one-time event was the experience of a lifetime, capturing the wonder of the audience, and the souls and minds of a collective musical consciousness assembled to perform a work whose 1874 premiere was worthy of being conducted by the composer himself. Unlike the premiere, which took place in a church where applause was prohibited, last night's audience burst forth in a no-holds-barred expression of emotion. The atmosphere of a city mourning the loss of its stellar opera company added to the poignancy - and mystery - of the experience.
According to tenor Piotr Beczala, http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwopera/article/BWW-Interview-To-Sing-with-Nature-Tenor-Piotr-Beczala-at-San-Diego-Opera-20140318 this Requiem is not a religious experience, not an overpowering statement of power: "Not part of the Mass, not prayer or being in church. It is its own piece, much more intimate than opera... one's own intimacy shared with something outside of oneself... a Supreme Being."
Yet, the raw emotional power evoked and expressed via the music amount to a supplication to that Supreme Being to show forgiveness and mercy, to help one confront one's own mortality. Verdi was not a religious man, but in this work he plumbs the depths of his grief at the loss of his beloved colleague Alessandro Manzoni, who died the year between the Aida and Requiem premieres. That the Company assembled was able to capture this essence is a testament to San Diego Opera's astonishing teamwork.
Verdi wrote the vocal solos for four singers he knew. Three of them had sung in the 1872 Aida premiere, among them the Aida, a soprano with a superb high C; and the Amneris, a mezzo with exquisite legato. The composer gives all the soloists a miraculous range of vocal and dramatic possibilities at once diverse, demanding, and virtuosic, and, by injecting his own distinctive strokes, gives the listener an extra feeling of intimacy with the work.
The Requiem has been staged in a number of ways in recent years, but no staging is necessary with a formidable group of soloists the likes of which rarely is seen on any operatic or concert stage. Complementing the stellar cast of SDO's recent A Masked Ball - tenor Beczala, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe - Ferruccio Furlanetto, celebrating his fortieth anniversary on the stage, added his breathtaking basso profundo artistry, packing a powerful punch to the already giddy audience's experience.