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Verdi’s Messa da Requiem Reviewed
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Verdi’s Messa da Requiem

Reviewed by George Fleeton © 2013

George Fleeton

George Fleeton

In her pre-concert talk, just before Verdi’s Requiem (Waterfront Hall, May 17), the Principal Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, stated that in conducting a work as huge as this it couldn’t be a discussion.

She added that her task was to find the something in the music that was greater than us, and that the journey there was always more interesting than the destination.

Female conductors are still so rare that I can only remember seeing two others at work in recent years:

Xian Zhang conducting the ‘La Verdi’ Symphony Orchestra one night in La Scala  Milan, and

Eve Queler conducting Madama Butterfly, at the Puccini Festival in Tuscany, for Belfast-born director Vivien Hewitt.

I believe that Marin Alsop is the tops in this department, and we can catch up with her when she conducts the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ on September 07, the first ever female conductor of that particular event.

Maestro Falletta, on the evidence of her conduct of the Verdi Requiem in Belfast, must surely belong to that elite, all-American group of Alsop, Queler and Zhang.

It is always a pleasure to see and to hear this great piece, from 1874, performed with full orchestra, massed choirs, experienced soloists – and a bass drum, beaten to within an inch of its life during the volcanic Dies irae (Day of wrath), the longest and most elaborate of the work’s seven sections.

Its place, unlike other well-known classical requiems (Mozart, Fauré, Beethoven’sMissa Solemnis), has always been the concert hall rather than the cathedral.

It came at a very late stage in Verdi’s life, after Aida (1871), when he was 61, and a self-confessed agnostic; yet he is faithful to the liturgical text of the Catholic funeral Mass.

This piece resonates with spiritual qualities which reflect meaningfully on first and last things – that same calm acceptance of death that we later find in Strauss’ impeccableFour Last Songs (1950).

Verdi wrote the female parts for his friends Teresa Stolz and Maria Waldmann – who had earlier created the roles of Aida and Amneris in the European première of Aida – and he conducted it himself, in Milan (where there exists a wonderful life drawing-cum-engraving of opening night, which can be seen on www.flickr.com).

Does the Requiem show Verdi‘s genius at its most concentrated, as so many musicologists contest, including the late Julian Budden, Verdi’s biographer, and George Bernard Shaw?

I suspect JoAnn Falletta thinks so too.

She poured herself into this performance, at times jumping clear off the podium, stressing ‘the opera in ecclesiastical garb’ reputation of the piece, forcefully, vividly.

Miss Falletta was well served by her soloists, and Derry-born mezz’alto Doreen Curran was more than able to holds her own in very high class company.

www.ulsterorchestra.com

George Fleeton teaches Opera and Cinema in Further and Higher Education.

His La Traviata pre-performance Talk takes place in the Gaiety Theatre Dublin on June 05 at 630pm:

www.lyricoperaproductions.com

www.gaietytheatre.ie