Monday, February 8, 2016

A Stunning Verdi Requiem by the L.A. Master Chorale

Los Angeles Master Chorale and Orchestra with soloists. (Photo by Patrick Brown)

Los Angeles Master Chorale
Disney Hall, Los Angeles

This past weekend at Disney Hall, an inspired Los Angeles Master Chorale and Orchestra, conducted by Artistic Director Grant Gershon, gave two thrilling, ultimately cathartic performances of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem. I caught the first one Saturday afternoon, in which the combined forces, with stellar guest soloists, gave full account to both the work's titanic musical architecture and its human-scaled pathos.

The work was originally prompted not by any religious enthusiasm on Verdi's part, but by the deaths of two towering figures he revered in Italy's artistic firmament: composer Giacomo Rossini and novelist-poet Alessandro Manzoni. Agnostic and solidly anti-Catholic, Verdi had already in his Don Carlo conveyed an acidic contempt for abuses of authority by both clerical and temporal rulers.

Ironic then that it was a respect for two "secular saints" that imbued the Messa da Requiem, premiered in 1874, with such fervid convictions. Playing some part may have been lingering memories of an early tragedy in Verdi's life, the loss to sudden illness of his wife and children. All but two of Verdi's operas are tragedies of no return. With his Requiem, he rights the imbalance by making of Catholicism's episodic liturgy a coherent narrative of direct human quest for redemption, with no ecclesiastical intermediary. He casts his soloists as ordinary people, and his chorus as a collective humanity. More than a sum of parts, Verdi's Requiem is a holistic vision, called by many his "greatest opera."

Last Saturday was one of those occasions where a masterpiece's potential was fully matched in performance...... (See here for more on Huffington Post.)

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