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BWW Review: VERDI'S REQUIEM, Royal Opera House

BWW Review: VERDI'S REQUIEM, Royal Opera House

BWW Review: VERDI'S REQUIEM, Royal Opera HouseExploited, often senselessly, in movies and TV shows of all genres, the popularity of Verdi's Requiem has served involuntarily to sheathe its mournful purpose.

Once regarded as a sombre mass performed in swift succession to the sound of tolling funeral bells, its widespread overuse has eroded half its ceremonious pumice - complicating even more the practice of affixing it to death's pervasive shadow.

This concert performance by the Royal Opera, under the baton of Antonio Pappano, offered an approach at times so pious that it shied away from greater exploration. At a frequently staid and often andante pace, the strings appeared somewhat domesticated and restrained in moderate vibrato.

Rarely languishing in melancholy with unfurling, slow diminuendi and a subtle tremolo, they deferentially complied with an agreeable but steady pace that called to mind a camel wading through the mounds of sand in the Sahara.

While they were furious in the scrambling, heady climaxes of "Dies Irae" - in whose second incarnation they discharged pristine descending scales - for the most part it was apparent that the scope of their ambition was the goal of comfort.

With woodwind occasionally splattering irregular notes and a trumpet that struggled with rhythm as it accompanied the chorus's lyrical reference to its "marvellous sound", cracks crept into the instrumental sections' mostly glutinous cohesion.

Although Pappano's distribution of rhythms and tempi was largely intact, squawks of unsoundly notes reared their ugly heads in the brass - and occasional delayed entrances made for an unclean last handful of chords.

Lise Davidsen lent the piece a lugubrious aroma with her full-bodied, dusky soprano. Rich in its enticingly tart timbre like the bouquet of a Merlot, Davidsen's technique best matched the Requiem's exigencies: mesmerising diminuendi that pour out with the slowness of viscous molasses, singing with solemnity at mezzo forte and the lulling swirls of soft, quiescent singing that purports to wish the dead a restful sleep.

Similar in expression with a wholly contrasting instrument was mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, whose weightier, far more ominous tone laced "lacrymosa dies illa" ("That day is one of weeping") with a simultaneously sinister and placating resonance.

A little overly affected was tenor Benjamin Bernheim. Despite having a potent, mostly well-controlled voice, his sudden crescendi and the dramatic extension of a hand here and there steered a little too far from the mass's more reserved and mysterious moments.

Applying bombastic intonations to the "Kyrie Eleison", he rushed some notes and fell into falsetto territory in the line "Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?" ("What have a wretch like I to say?"). The sullen "Ingemisco tamquam reus" ("I lament like a culprit") became a much more heightened, aria-like showpiece.

Bass Gábor Bretz underpinned the work with the portentous timbre of his growling and wide-ranging voice, yet he was likewise excessively declamatory in moments such as "Mors stupebit et natura" ("Death and nature will be startled").

Their diction crisp and entrances and exits largely punctual, the chorus effused the work with its ethereal and stupefying moments at times far more accurately than the orchestra.

Altogether the performance was a reverent display of parting with the dead - but one with crimps and figures out of place; like a hastily arranged bouquet of elegiac lilies that includes a host of wilting heads resembling drooping canes. The evening emanated a funereal ambiance, without succeeding fully to confront the natures of both life and death.

Photo credit: David Bebber

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From This Author Sophia Lambton