Pappano Leads a Fine Verdi Requiem in London


United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi Requiem: Hibla Gerzmava (soprano); Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo (mezzo); Joseph Calleja (tenor); Carlo Colombara (bass); Chorus & Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecila/Sir Antonio  Pappano. Royal Festival Hall, London, 18.5.2014 (CC)

Around a year ago, Daniele Gatti conducted this work with the Philharmonia at this very venue (review). Both Gatti and Pappano have this music in their blood; the two concerts even shared a soloist: Carlo Colombara, of whom more later. Both conductors have an ability to see the piece as a whole while honouring the drama of the moment.

Somehow, though, it was Pappano who got closer to the heart of the piece. The chorus, visually, seemed small for a piece of these dimensions and scope. It was clear that the dynamic range was going to be wide from the opening, hushed string statements verging on the inaudible yet perfectly controlled; the chorus matched the dynamic beautifully. At the other end of the scale came the almighty ‘Dies Irae’. The choral size was perfectly planned: there was no loss in force, and every gain in detail, even in the fearsome fortissimi and beyond. Space, too, was utilised to fullest advantage, with brass fanfares echoing and bouncing around the hall. This was the perfect integration of spectacle, gesture and heartfelt outpouring. Choral detail was preternaturally focused, nowhere more so than in the lightness of the ‘Sanctus’.

Pappano’s speeds were clearly carefully considered, lending a feeling of overarching cogency to the performance. His experience in the opera house gave him a deep understanding not only of the drama of the piece but also of how Verdi’s statement of faith expresses itself via tropes that are linked directly to operatic gesture. In some sense, therefore, it felt as if Pappano was presenting the very essence of Verdi.

The performance was blessed with a sterling line-up of soloists. Hibla Gerzmava’s soprano voice was capable of blinding radiance (in the ‘Offertorium’, for example) yet also delivered full-headlight intensity (‘Libera me’). In a late substitution, dramatic mezzo Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo stood in for an indisposed Ekaterina Semenchuk. Initial reactions were that here was someone who was clearly experienced, but perhaps not the equal of her peers. As the performance progressed and she found herself ever more swept along, that was erased and she melded beautifully into the vocal quartet of soloists.

Carlo Colombara seemed decidedly less black of voice than a year ago but hardly less impressive: his top register was in beautiful shape, but the depth of his lower register was markedly different. The impact of ‘Mors stupebit’ was accordingly different; less terminal this time, more part of an onward spiritual journey. The clear star of the line-up was Joseph Calleja, whose strong but beautiful voice was never forced, whose phrasing always felt right and spontaneous. His golden tone illuminated the ‘Ingemisco’, an eloquent and heartrending cry for forgiveness from the Almighty for his sins.  His ‘Hostias’ was impeccably sweet toned.

This was a notable performance, orchestrally superb, chorally magnificent and impeccably judged by Pappano. The audience, curiously, took a while to settle down – perhaps it was the early start on a sunny Sunday afternoon that gave rise to such restlessness. But the performance sucked the fidgeters in, and by the end the magic was complete. The ovation was richly deserved.

Colin Clarke



  1. john martin says:

    I agree it was a magical performance overall.
    (and agree the audience was underwhelmingly attentive initially ; I was near the back right of centre ,and some knuckle head kept on rustling the infamous sweet wrappers at unbelievable moments,including the Ingemisco).

    Pappano, orchestra and chorus were just fabulous throughout.

    I totally agree the chorus size, small in comparison with most Verdi Requiem “mega” performances, worked wonderfully well.

    Soprano – excellent (albeit unfortunate she seemed to hit it wrong at the important end).
    Mezzo – terrific.
    Bass – I thought he was not on a good night.
    Tenor – a true “state of grace” performance. I am not JC’s greatest fan,but this was very special ; one of those nights you are just waiting for a particular singer to “go again”, and remember for a long, long time.

Leave a Reply to john martin

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

  • NEW! LPO’s ‘Summer Sessions’ – four hour-long chamber concerts every 2nd Wednesday from 15 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC Proms turns 125 years old – 17 July to 12 September 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North in 2020-2021 – postponements and plans __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Glyndebourne Festival Opera opens for a 2020 summer season __________________________________
  • NEW! Baritone Federico Longhi’s Rigoletto is part of Parma’s June Verdian renaissance __________________________________
  • NEW! 69th Wexford Festival Opera – 11 to 18 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Dresden’s Semperoper reopens with Anna Netrebko on 19 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in 2020-21 __________________________________
  • NEW! LMP’s first UK chamber orchestra performances since Covid-19 struck __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Lieder Festival – 10-17 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Metropolitan Opera (2020–)2021 season update __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House announces first live concert since beginning of lockdown __________________________________
  • NEW! Semi-staged Das Rheingold on Deutsche Oper Berlin’s parking deck from 12 June __________________________________
  • NEW! A breath of fresh air: Opera Holland Park announces 2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2020 Found Season – 4 June to 12 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2020 Salzburg Festival – 1 to 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival’s 2020 online series of concerts and talks __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! We’ll be back! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra weathering the Covid-19 storm __________________________________
  • NEW! World Ballet School Day – inaugural edition 7 July 2020 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Longborough Festival Opera launches podcast and extraordinary generosity of the audience __________________________________
  • NEW! The Music Critics Association of North America Best New Opera Award to Blue __________________________________
  • NEW! Lincoln Center honors Pride with a light installation on its iconic plaza __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020): Did we really need Vera Lynn during the war? __________________________________
  • NEW! What price Sherlock Holmes? __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC to show the ROH’s first post-lockdown performance and their other recent music news __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen comes back fighting with a book and A Rainy Day in New York __________________________________
  • NEW! Educating Rita, says who? __________________________________
  • NEW! 2020 Three Choirs Festival – postponed __________________________________
  • NEW! Need to escape reality? Enter into the magical world of composer David Hertzberg __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month