Muti Brings Verdi Requiem Alive

SpainSpain Verdi: Messa da Requiem, Orchestras Teatro Real and Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, Chorus Teatro Real and Comunidad de Madrid, Riccardo Muti (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 14.4.2014 (JMI)

Tatjana Serjan, soprano
Ekaterina Gubanova, mezzo soprano
Francesco Meli, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass


This musical event must be considered as particularly extraordinary: it was conducted by Riccardo Muti, the “High Priest of  Verdi Religion,” and it conmemorated the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco. Two concerts were presented, the first one in Toledo’s Cathedral and the second in Madrid’s Teatro Real.

Expectations ran very high, and they were largely met. Riccardo Muti is not a conductor of dramatic gesture on the podium  ̶  rather the opposite  ̶  but there is no doubt that his mastery of the score and his authority are indisputable. Just the slightest gesture from his hand or face were enough for musicians and singers to follow his desires without the slightest hesitation. His reading of the Requiem Mass score was brilliant, and it would have been truly memorable with a more important  quartet of singers. Today, Muti on Verdi can be compared only with himself and with the very great conductors of the past. To highlight just a few breath-taking moments, his interpretations of “Lacrimosa”and the “Ofertorio” were miraculous, and his conducting of “Hostias et Preces” was an experience never to be forgotten.

It’s not easy to understand the need for two orchestras and two choruses here. As for the orchestras, I cannot find any explanation but the desire of Mr. Muti to have his group, Luigi Cherubini Orchestra, participate, although the Orchestra of Teatro Real has sufficient quantity and quality to play alone. The presence of two choruses is also puzzling because in total there were no more than 80 singers; we’d just seen an even higher number of Teatro Real chorus members in Lohengrin. But in any case, both orchestras and choral groups performed well.

The cast choices of Riccardo Muti were somewhat curious. Tatjana Serjan appears frequently in Muti’s productions, and her presence has always been surprising to me because her ability is not comparable with other sopranos known by every aficionado. However, she offered a good performance here, and it would appear that she can be a different soprano under Muti’s baton. I say this because a few months ago I had occasion to see her in Berlin as Tosca, and I found her rather  disappointing.

Mezzo soprano Ekaterina Gubanova offered a somewhat reduced and attractive voice with an incomprehensible diction. Verdi requires something more important.

Francesco Meli was the best singer of the quartet, though his Verdian suitability might be somewhat questionable. His voice is attractive and he sings with gusto and expressiveness, but his high notes are a little thin. He was quite good at “Ingemisco” and offered some beautiful piani at “Hostias et Preces.”

The third Russian in the cast was Ildar Abdrazakov, an elegant and attractive singer, but his voice is not truly Verdian. He offered an excellent musicality but fell short on power. On the positive side, his diction was very good.

Teatro Real was fully sold out. There was an enthusiastic reception for the artists and particularly for Mr. Muti, who was acclaimed every time he entered on stage. As is usual with him, there were no solo bows.

José Mª. Irurzun

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