Palm Beach Opera, soloists soar in Verdi’s Requiem

By Alan Becker

Bruno Aprea leads assembled choruses Sunday in Verdi's Requiem at Palm Beach Opera.

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.

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Palm Beach Opera, soloists soar in Verdi’s Requiem”

  1. Posted Jan 18, 2011 at 10:39 am by Bart Birdsall

    This was a great performance! The orchestra was great, the choruses did a terrific job, and the soloists were terrific! Angela Meade is such a promising soprano. Her soft singing was wonderful. Zajick was her normal self: great! The only complaint from me was the rude audience. Poor Aprea had to stop the very beginning and start over. But the rude late comers were straggling in still even after that. I am tired of the rude Aouth Florida audiences feeling free to stroll in a half hour late and take their time getting seated. I am shocked I am 43, yet I know how to act when I go to operas. 60, 70, 80 year olds act like little kids humming to the music, opening peppermints slowly, greeting friends as they come in late, etc. Will I forget how to behave in 20 years? Is it a thing that happens with age? You forget manners?

  2. Posted Jan 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm by Dolly Davis

    In agreement with Bart’s comment. I cannot believe the Kravis allows ushers to seat latecomers during movements. I know that the Requiem has relatively few pauses, but for people to come barreling in during the hushed beginning is ridiculous! That music is so quiet and sets the tone for the remainder of the piece. The ushers should know better than to seat latecomers like that!
    But wow, what brilliant soloists!

  3. Posted Jan 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm by Alfred Defago

    The impoliteness of some concertgoers at the Verdi Requiem was no isolated case.
    Unfotunately it’s a well known fact that the predominantly older audience in the Kravis Center’s classical music and opera programs is often rude and impolite. I know of many friends who don’t go any longer to such events because of this sad situation. That the Kravis itself supports this impossible behavior by letting in notorious latecomers during movements and ouvertures is absolutely scandalous. If it’s not able and willing to stop this in the weeks and months to come, they will lose me as concert- and operagoer as well.

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Mon Jan 17, 2011
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