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Review: Requiem as opera

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ISO and chorus present Verdi's Requiem
  • ISO and chorus present Verdi's Requiem

Is Giuseppe Verdi's (1813-1901) hour and a half Requiem, written to honor Italian poet and statesman Alessandro Manzoni, operatic in nature? Given that Verdi was a lifetime opera composer; that he was, in 1874, at the height of his powers; that he had completed Aida three years earlier and would complete Otello 13 years later with unflagging inspiration at age 74; that the Requiem is filled with the same dramatic ardor as the two above-mentioned operas -- it is difficult not to see a man-of-the-stage connection.

After a five-year respite, the ISO, together with four vocal soloists and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, once again prepared this late Romantic masterpiece -- this time with ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański on the podium. Following a couple of last-minute substitutions, the soloists were soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo Sasha Cooke, tenor Eric Barry and bass Jordan Bisch. Saturday's house matched the stage in being filled to the brim.

The dramatic nature of Verdi's Requiem is mostly defined by his liberal use of the "Dies Irae" -- one of seven parts, this one subdivided into nine sections and occupying nearly half the work's length. Verdi did not use the "Dies Irae" plain chant which was employed by several other Romantic composers, but created one of his own: a tumultuously pounding one with the score marked ffff, a chromatic descending line and two bass drums sounding together. The ensuing "Tuba mirum," with two trumpets on each end of the upper mezzanine, added to the thunder of Bisch, chorus and orchestra.

Yet Verdi doled out a goodly share of plaintive melody: for example the "Quid sum miser" with Cooke and Barry in duet--along with a solo bassoon obbligato. This was followed by the enchanting "Recordare" with Crocetto joining Cooke. Both of these could have been operatic duets. Crocetto, the sole vocalist in the "Libera me," displayed a rich opulence in her singing, whereas Cooke's voice was leaner but more firmly on pitch. Of the two male singers, Barry offered the most vibrant delivery.

Under the direction and preparation of Eric Stark, the Symphonic Choir showed itself to be in top form throughout this difficult, challenging work. Most especially, the concluding fugue in the final part, "Libera me," had all the voices entering and exiting with a crispness of execution and diction that I don't recall hearing previously.

Urbański's orchestra held its own with the chorus, the conductor's penchant for controlled dynamics much in evidence throughout. These large works with orchestra and chorus have been consistent triumphs for Urbański since he joined us. Now if he can just be persuaded to prepare Beethoven's even greater, even more challenging Missa Solemnis in D, Op. 123, sometime during his present five-year contract. . . Stark has already indicated he'd "have the chorus ready." Oct. 11-12; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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