Palm Beach Opera, soloists soar in Verdi’s Requiem
Why is a Requiem on the schedule of an opera company?
To begin with, Verdi’s Requiem has all the drama, demanding vocal writing and intensity of expression of any of his operas. Moreover, there is ample precedent for doing so, as Palm Beach Opera follows a path set by many other opera companies, presenting a work that saves the cost of scenery and sets.
Verdi’s masterpiece followed the Italian premiere of Aida, and drew the wrath of several critics who complained that the music–written in memory of his much admired friend, the poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni–was not properly ecclesiastical.
Verdi never intended the piece for performance in a church service, It was considered to be an opera, but set to a sacred text. No less a figure than Brahms declared it a work of genius, and many consider the Requiem to be “Verdi’s greatest opera.”
Palm Beach Opera took on the challenge of this blockbuster work Sunday afternoon at the Kravis Center and emerged fully triumphant. When the curtain rose it revealed a stage almost entirely filled with musicians, and a chorus of impressive dimensions. The Palm Beach Opera Chorus was supplemented with the Delray Beach Chorale, Master Chorale of South Florida, Masterworks Chorus of the Palm Beaches, and the Robert Sharon Chorale. Chorusmaster Greg Ritchey must have had his hands full coordinating this large group, but considering that this was a one-time performance, the singers’ enthusiasm and control of the notes were most impressive.
The lion’s share of the music rests on the voices of the four soloists. Soprano Angela Meade is frequently called on by Verdi to ride the crest of the ensemble, and deliver her notes with pinpoint accuracy and unbridled passion. She also must have the ability to easily float her tones. This she did without fear, and with an especially beautiful sound in the final release of the soul, the Libera Me. She also negotiated an impressive trill, frequently avoided by those of lesser skill.
The celebrated mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick has a firm yet luscious voice and easily took control of her important part. Her ability to blend in the quartet and project her important vocal contribution showed the mark of a seasoned veteran in this work. Tenor Carl Tanner began the opening Kyrie by pushing his voice too hard, but his pronounced quaver was soon overcome. Tanner made his own major contribution to the ensemble with an Ingemisco that was a model of refinement and control.
The rock-steady bass of Morris Robinson was commanding in its weight, power, and interpretive nuance. What he does with his Sarastro-like instrument is truly amazing as the voice carries easily even at the softest dynamics. In all, the quartet of soloists was notable for their tonal beauty, fine blend, and ability to fully grasp the intense drama of Verdi’s writing.
At the core of the performance was the endlessly subtle, yet vibrantly theatrical leadership of conductor Bruno Aprea. At moments of greatest ecstasy in the Dies Irae he spread his arms wide as if to convey the full wrath of God while the bass drum hammered away the dreaded judgement. Aprea wisely chose to begin anew after the opening notes of the Requiem were spoiled by a fit of bronchial outbursts and the dulcet tones of a child’s voice.
Except for some doubtful intonation by cellos and double basses at the start of the Offertory, the orchestra was alert and sounded very well. A few more violins might have helped enrich the string sound, but the overall accomplishment was indeed awe-inspiring, as a performance of Verdi’s Requiem should be.
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Mon Jan 17, 2011
at 12:28 pm