Verdi Requiem, 11/29/17
Frank and I heard the Verdi Requiem at the Met on 11/29/17. It was part of a four-performance run that took the place of a wacky new production of *La Forza del Destino* that the Met decided it couldn't afford. Well then the beloved Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky died last week, so they decided to dedicate these performances to him. Handy, right? They say that the Reqiuem is Verdi's greatest opera. I've heard this so many times I don't know who said it, but I think it might be true. He was at the absolute peak of his powers, he poured all of his technical, emotional, and political abilities into the piece. The star of the performance was the piece itself. The performance was conducted by Music Director Emeritus, James Levine. What a marvel he is. The very first sound was so hushed and inward, it was almost inaudible. And at other times the orchestra and chorus were in full cry. The high point of the performance was the antiphonal trumpet moment, leading into the "Tuba mirum." This was a tour de force for both Verdi and the performers - - the way it builds, there's nothing like it on earth, it literally took my breath away. But there's one moment that thrills me like no other in this piece, and that's the bass drum offbeat WHAMs in the "Dies irae." Here's a video of some long-haired cutie totally going to town on his bass drum:
Is that absolute power and wrath, or what? Of course at the Met I always sit way up on the Family Circle, I couldn't be further away from the stage, I'm practically upstate. But I had a great view of the percussionist playing the bass drum and was tickled to watch him standing next to the drum, eyes on his score, and doing a little shimmy leading up to this moment. Like a fighter going into the ring! What a treat that Verdi put this "Dies irae" moment in the Requiem three times. It never gets old, it always gets my blood pumping. Of course the Met had four stellar soloists. They made their vocal entrances one by one in the "Kyrie," and only tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko truly nailed it. The other three sounded a little off, the soprano, in particular, sounded like it took a little effort to knit together the different parts of her voice. But they soon got into their groove. I need to hear Antonenko in a fully staged opera, he really impressed me. Maybe not a particularly beautiful voice, but wow, it is an exciting one. Totally even and secure, he went for it and he hit the ball out of the park. Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto sang with complete authority and an innate sense of the style, what a joy to hear that. Maybe he doesn't have the plush sound he once had, but his performance was majestic. I was reminded of a great Ethel Merman story: she was as fan of Croatian soprano Zinka Milanov and often went to her performances at the Met. Merman said to stage director Michael Manuel, "She's like me - - been around forever and knows what the hell she's doing." That's how I think of Furlanetto. (By the way, I had the joy of pulling Richard's copy of *Ethel Merman* by Brian Kellow off the shelf to get that quote.) Mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk sang with real operatic panache. Frank said afterwards that maybe she thought she was singing Azucena, the vengeful witch in *Il Trovatore.* That's definitely one of her roles, and I'm sure she's extraordinary! Maybe we could ask for a little more gracefulness, but clearly she was doing what she does best. She had one phrase that plunged way down into chest voice, and Semenchuk made it thrillingly vulgar. The soprano was Krassimira Stoyanova. Every pianissimo high note was sublime, and she had many of them. My favorite was at the end of a movement - - the soprano has a sinuous line culminating in a held pianissimo high note, and Stoyanova started the phrase by taking a step away from her music stand, leaning a bit to one side, and then seemed to go into a state of zero gravity! I'd never seen anything like it! She didn't actually lift off the floor, but she acted like she COULD. She sang her final aria, the "Libera me," with presence and fortitude. Ideally I might want a little more creaminess in the sound, but she was marvelous. Two more things I'll mention about the soloists. There are four or five moments where they sing a cappella, and something weird was going on. It's not that they were out of tune or out of synch, but it sounded like they weren't listening to each other. It was a little disconcerting. But then on the flip side, one of the most ravishing moments of the evening was the "Agnus Dei," a duet for the soprano and mezzo soloists, singing in octaves throughout. Stoyanova and Semenchuk were absolutely on the same wavelength, every inflection was in perfect alignment. This takes real skill and what I'll call vocal empathy. But of course the chorus was at the forefront of the performance. They were matchless, singing with a wide range of color, beautiful, rich, expressive singing. The "Sanctus" is very fast and complicated and I'm sure it's a train wreck in many performances - - the Met chorus and orchestra were buoyant, sparkling, and delightful. A hearty round of bravos to chorus master Donald Palumbo and the Met chorus.