Sensitive, Thrilling Verdi Requiem

United StatesUnited States  Verdi, Messa da Requiem: Joyce El-Khouri (soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), René Barbara (tenor), Jordan Bisch (bass), Seattle Symphony Chorale (Joseph Crnko, director), Ludovic Morlot (conductor), Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 24.11.2013 (BJ)

Requiems, George Bernard Shaw observed, seem to be offered as a kind of treat, whether anyone is dead or not. Well, the performance of the Verdi Requiem that Ludovic Morlot led on this occasion was a treat indeed. Coming just a few months after his compelling reading of the Britten War Requiem, it capped a three-week period that confirmed the Seattle Symphony music director’s increasingly broad and perceptive range of stylistic sympathies. A powerful Mahler Sixth, and an admirably fresh and stylish Beethoven Pastoral, were followed by a Verdi Requiem that was epic in conception, by turns sensitive and thrilling in expression, and very nearly flawless in execution.

There were, perhaps, a few places where the full distinction of Verdi’s textures emerged from the vast forces involved a shade less that ideally clear—and in the Agnus Dei one or two of the composer’s especially magical moments of instrumental color did not make their full effect. But for the rest this was a totally convincing account of the work, and it was appropriately offered in honor of Speight Jenkins’s 30-year tenure as General Director of Seattle Opera.

Jenkins was responsible for the choice of soloists for this performance, and his expertise had produced a team of remarkably fine quality. The two women in particular, Joyce El-Khouri and Tamara Mumford, were not only individually superb in tone and technique, but their voices blended to a degree I have rarely experienced. The tenor, René Barbera, whom Seattle audiences will have remembered from his excellent portrayal of the Prince in the opera company’s La Cenerentola last season, again sang strongly and blessedly without exaggeration. Only the bass, Jordan Bisch, though musical enough, revealed a voice that was short of color and a touch too baritonishly light for the part.

Joseph Crnko’s Seattle Symphony Chorale gave forth with all its customary vigor and polish. The orchestra, too, was in fine fettle: effects ranging from the fanfares from brasses disposed in one of the high balconies for the Tuba mirum to the skirling scales of Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby’s piccolo and Ben Hausmann’s eloquent oboe solos were all managed to perfection. As Speight Jenkins remarked in an interview printed in the program, the Requiem is essentially “one of Verdi’s operas,” and in this performance the drama implied by that judgement and the inexhaustible music richness of the score combined to create a frisson of delight mixed with awe.

Bernard Jacobson

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