The piece began life as an homage to commemorate the life of the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. After his death, Verdi commissioned the leading composers of the day to write a requiem for the late maestro on the anniversary of his death. Though the plans ultimately fell through, Verdi never really gave up on the idea of a requiem mass. Several years later, it was the death of poet Alessandro Manzoni that would motivate Verdi to finalize his requiem that he officially called, Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874. And ever since that first performance, the piece has been thrilling audiences at each performance.
Our performance included the magnificent Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by newly instated music director maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin. This was my first hearing and seeing of this orchestra, and I am quite pleased to report that I hope it is not my last. Never have I heard an orchestra that could flex such sensitivity with a pianissimo. The sound literally came from nothing and grew into a cascading whirlwind of musical genius. Maestro Nezet-Seguin had the orchestra, chorus, and soloists enwrapped with him as they navigated the requiem together. The result of which was absolute soul-filling music making that left one simultaneously exhausted of emotion, and empowered by the majesty of what they had just witnessed. At the end of the concert, maestro Nezet-Seguin refused to release his arms, leaving the audience braced and waiting in breathless silence for the al fin. When he finally let us go, it was a massive outpour of love and admiration. Quite well deserved
Playing no small part in the evening were our soloists. The soprano soloist was Russian born Marina Poplavskaya. Ms. Poplavskaya’s voice was something akin to a warm oven of sound. She filled the house beautifully in the final movements with her cries of “Libera me, libera me.” And her final high note blasted forth like a gorgeous cannon of rich vibrancy. Verdi gave the mezzo some of the best vocal lines in the piece in terms of interpretation, and the part calls for a great singer who can convey these emotions. I am quite happy to report our mezzo fit the bill and then some! British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice blended very well in the duets with Ms. Poplavskaya. She wonderfully held her own with crystal clear tonality and an extremely fine tuned sense of musical communication. Her expression of the text was such that one need not look at the translations. If one did, one would miss the magnitude of her acting ability. Rolando Villazon took the tenor spot for the evening. Dressed all in black (as were the rest, quite apropos), his voice was not a large one, yet had the same sense of expression that Ms. Rice possessed. I am well aware of Mr. Villazon’s history of vocal problems, yet one would never know. He sang full voiced, quite gloriously, and I am sure he will continue to do so for a long time to come. Last, but not least, our bass was Mikhail Petrenko. He sang with a deep, rich bass voice that thundered, though lost its polish on the higher register.
Completing the trilogy of musicians was the Westminster Symphonic Choir directed by Joe Miller. This was a very young choir, but sang with great musicianship that only enhanced the evening. With all these forces combined, it quite literally made the floorboards rattle, and made for an evening I shan’t soon forget.
For more information on the Philadelphia Orchestra, click here.