Friday, April 23, 2010

Verdi's Requim- oh hell no!

Angela Brown

Dimitri Pittas

ASO and Chorus

Big Hair

Last night’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert presented Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, written in 1874. The performance was quite good, especially the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. There were also four soloists: Angela Brown (soprano), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo-soprano), Dimitri Pittas (tenor), and Burak Bilgili (bass). Of the four, Maultsby was the weakness, particularly in her lower range. She struggled with volume, and was sometimes drowned by the orchestra and chorus. The opening section, titled “Requiem” was very good. The chorus began with a wonderfully soft sound that seemed to rise out of the air handling rumble of the auditorium. It was quite impressive. The chorus had great ensemble, which is stellar with 200 voices. The only misstep is the beginning was the introduction of the French horns, which were a bit pitchy. The Tuba Mirum section highlighted the ASO brass very well. The off-stage trumpets were very effective. Symphony Hall seems designed for large choral works like this. The sound was big and clear. All in all the performance was very competent, and the audience afforded the performers a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls.

Several things bothered me during the performance. First, the person sitting in front of me had the biggest hair that managed to block my view of the stage. Given that I was in the nose-bleed section, it had to be really large hair. Second, a person sitting behind me kept sniffling with every breath. Now I will grant that the pollen levels have been very high in Atlanta of late, but it would have better had the person enjoyed the concert from the aisles and sucked in whatever they were sucking in in splendid isolation. Third, a cell phone went off in the audience during a quiet portion of the Requiem. It took all of us just a few seconds to locate with our ears where the phone was. Apparently the owner was not so swift and it took maybe 30 seconds for her to figure out it was her phone. This is nearly inexcusable, especially since a pre-concert announcement was made to turn off phones.

Finally, I must say that I do not like Verdi’s Requiem very much. It strikes me as very angry music. But why shouldn’t it? The text is full of “This day, this day of wrath shall consume the world in ashes”,” What shall I, a wretch say?”, “I groan, like the sinner that I am”, “When the damned are cast away and consigned to the searing flames,” “Just judge of vengeance”, etc. The fear and dread in the text seem so contrary to what I want when my loves ones or I die. The god portrayed here is all about judgment of weak and sinful man that seems not very comforting in a time of deep sorrow. Christians have designed for themselves a terrible god of wrath and vengeance. I for one would like a requiem that acknowledges the terrible loss of someone that will never been seen again. I would like a requiem that helped me grieve without focusing on the evil that men do. I would like music that keeps good company with the sadness, e.g., Gorecki’s Third or Kilar’s Piano concerto (2nd movement), or even the overused Barber Adagio. I would like music that pays homage to the life of the person who died. I would like music of hope for the future of mankind e.g., a movement of one of Bach’s Brandenburgs. Much great and wonderful music has been written for the Christian liturgy (e.g, the chants and English plain songs) but the negativity and fear of some of it is just not for me. I am pretty certain that I shall never hear another performance of the Verdi Requiem. Too angry, too fearful- which makes me sad.

But Verdi has his bright side. He was suspicious of organized religion. He cautioned a member of his family “Stay away from the priests.” Good advice, particularly if the family member was a young boy.

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