Switzerland Verdi, Messa da Requiem: Soloists, Verbier Festival Orchestra and Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Maria Agresta (soprano), Daniela Barcellona (mezzo-soprano), Piotr Beczala (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass). Salle des Combins, Verbier, Switzerland. Movie director: Corentin Leconte. Production: Idéale Audience, – MUSEEC/medici.tv. 1.8.2013 (RDA)
Earlier this season, I wrote about a very fine performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Cincinnati, Ohio: “…a monumental work—its musical language writ large and rooted in the operatic stage. It cries out in existential anguish hoping for peace and life eternal, while its sobering text, taken from the Catholic Mass for the Dead, invites reflection on mortality. This is a sacred opera in which the dramatic argument is not one of man vs. man but one of man in a life-and-death struggle with his own soul. Verdi, an agnostic, composed the Requiem in 1870, as he was entering old age. Otello and Falstaff would have to wait in the wings while the stage was set for a music drama about matters of the spirit.”
No performance of the Requiem can be called definitive. With each successive reading, lovers of the Verdi canon enjoy yet another aspect of this masterpiece, for the Requiem is to sacred music what Beethoven’s Ninth is to the symphonic repertoire – a kind of ne plus ultra masterwork by a genius composer at the very top of his game. Every great conductor from Toscanini to Bernstein to Levine has recorded the Requiem, every great spinto tenor from Di Stefano to Pavarotti has stepped up to the plate to essay Ingemisco, and every basso’s Confutatis Maledictis is measured against Pinza’s and Christoff’s iconic recordings. Further, every soprano and mezzo who attempt the two very demanding female solos in this heavenly quartet have to endure comparisons to the likes of Steber, Price, and Schwarzkopf, and farther back in the past century the one-in-a-thousand voices of Barbieri, Tebaldi and Cossotto.
In this superb film – just released a few days ago – Gianandrea Noseda leads the Verbier Festival orchestra and elicits from his youthful contingent a performance that shakes the rafters of the Salle des Combins. The joy of watching this maestro at work is tremendous, for he does not stint on an ounce of the energy that drives him, his orchestra and the superb Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino, of which he is music director . This is one for the books.
The singers – all four of them – are splendidly balanced vocally, so that in their ensemble work soprano Maria Agresta’s lyric voice matches by dint of technique and timbre the darker, dramatic sound of mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona. In their solo work they shine, Agresta singing with heartbreaking sensitivity in the Recordare, spinning out ethereal pianissimi throughout and absolutely owning the final Libera me. Barcellona brings her imposing sound to a prophetic Liber Scriptus and sings with a hefty approach to the chest range redolent of the sound of the great Giulietta Simionato.
Polish tenor Piotr Beczala sings with an elegant, bel canto approach – his vocalism always on target, his top notes solid, his legato unflagging. Bashkirian bass Ildar Abdrazakov makes a wonderful Confutatis and contributes a rock-solid foundation to all the quartets.
Again I quote from my old review: “The final Libera me gives the soprano the lioness’ share of Verdi’s glorious music in what amounts to an operatic scena, engulfing the soprano in a maelstrom of sound, while her voice fights to be heard above the din—as a soul fights for salvation. The final pianissimo morendo on the words, ‘Libera me Domine di morte aeterna’, set in the soprano’s extreme low register, is as profoundly moving a depiction of the passing of a soul as anything in western music.”
Rafael de Acha