Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Music review: Colossal 'Requiem' at PB Opera proves hugely enjoyable

Bruno Aprea leads the Verdi Requiem on Sunday.


By Greg Stepanich

Even if you hear it by playing a YouTube video through‭ ‬the‭ ‬tinny speakers built into your laptop,‭ ‬Giuseppe‭ ‬Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Messa da Requiem makes an overwhelming impression.

So much more overwhelming was it,‭ ‬then,‭ ‬to see the massive chorus and orchestra lined up on stage Sunday afternoon at the Kravis Center for a‭ ‬full-on‭ ‬performance of what many experts continue to think of as Verdi‭’‬s greatest opera.‭ ‬Joined by a fine quartet of operatic voices,‭ ‬the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra and a combined chorus of more than‭ ‬100‭ ‬voices gave a colossal,‭ ‬enormously enjoyable performance of this‭ ‬1874‭ ‬masterwork,‭ ‬and by doing so not incidentally kept the opera company in the public eye during a time of straitened budgets.

The audience,‭ ‬which murmured audibly,‭ ‬then applauded,‭ ‬when it saw all those musicians on stage,‭ ‬took some time to settle down,‭ ‬even after the music started,‭ ‬forcing conductor Bruno Aprea to restart the piece after its first few measures had been largely drowned out by coughing and chatter.‭ ‬But the course of the music was largely trouble-free after that.

The mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick,‭ ‬one of the leading Verdian mezzos working today,‭ ‬was joined by soprano Angela Meade,‭ ‬tenor Carl Tanner and bass Morris Robinson for the solo quartet,‭ ‬which blended nicely at‭ ‬times of concord.‭ ‬Zajick and Meade had a fair amount of wide vibrato early on,‭ ‬though that evened out as the music progressed.‭

Zajick was particularly affecting in the opening of the‭ ‬Quid sum miser,‭ ‬one of the most beautiful passages in all Verdi,‭ ‬and in the‭ ‬Recordare,‭ ‬to which she gave the‭ ‬appropriate gentleness to match the words,‭ ‬which implore Jesus not to let the faithful to be lost.‭ ‬There is a quality of iron to Zajick‭’‬s voice that makes it formidable and distinctive,‭ ‬even when she was singing as part of the quartet.

Robinson,‭ ‬another veteran of the Metropolitan Opera,‭ ‬was especially impressive throughout,‭ ‬from the dramatic way he half-sobbed the‭ “‬Mors‭”‬ (Death‭) ‬in the‭ ‬Mors stupebit,‭ ‬to the vividness with which he sang the‭ ‬Confutatis,‭ ‬and even in‭ ‬his take on the‭ ‬Lacrymosa,‭ ‬in‭ ‬which‭ ‬his voice‭ ‬had an intense,‭ ‬pleading character in the higher registers.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a big voice,‭ ‬no doubt,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s not sepulchral‭; ‬it‭’‬s an agile voice that‭’‬s‭ ‬ideal for roles in which clarity of diction and expressivity are crucial.

Tanner,‭ ‬last season‭’‬s Moor in‭ ‬Otello,‭ ‬was at his best in the‭ ‬Ingemisco,‭ ‬where he could display the fine lyric quality of his voice to good advantage.‭ ‬He sang it in a highly personal way,‭ ‬not letting his voice ring out completely until the‭ ‬Statuens in parte dextra at the end,‭ ‬and the effect was most moving‭; ‬he sounded guilt-wracked and desperate,‭ ‬and in‭ ‬some ways this was the finest performance of the afternoon.

Meade‭’‬s first entrance in the‭ ‬Kyrie eleison was big and blooming,‭ ‬floating easily up to her As and Bs,‭ ‬helping‭ ‬carry the first moments of‭ ‬the piece into the realm of operatic epic.‭ ‬Although it was well-sung,‭ ‬her concluding‭ ‬Libera me struck me as somewhat careful,‭ ‬and could have used some more drama,‭ ‬being as it is a plea to God not to be cast into the abyss.

Dolora Zajick sings the Verdi Requiem on Sunday.


Aprea conducted with his customary fire and passion,‭ ‬a director who can be counted on to infuse every single bar of what he‭’‬s conducting with total commitment.‭ ‬The climactic cadences in this work were truly immense,‭ ‬with the enormous chorus‭ ‬singing full tilt,‭ ‬and the orchestra playing all out in passages such as the celebrated‭ ‬Dies irae‭ (‬with double bass drums giving those famous afterbeats tremendous force‭)‬.‭ ‬It was one of those rare times when the full capability of the Kravis was on display,‭ ‬and sounded like a house that naturally can host gigantic agglomerations of musicians.

The orchestra played beautifully for the most part,‭ ‬with the exception of the dicey massed-cello opening of the‭ ‬Offertorium,‭ ‬a treacherous passage that requires players to go from the very bottom of their instruments to the top rapidly,‭ ‬and end with melodic elegance.‭ ‬It was not in tune at the top,‭ ‬and never got there in the repeat passages,‭ ‬but this was a tiny blot on what was on the whole a stellar orchestral performance.

The chorus,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬made up of the company chorus,‭ ‬the Master Chorale of South Florida,‭ ‬Masterworks Chorus of the Palm Beaches,‭ ‬Delray Beach Chorale and the Robert Sharon Chorale,‭ ‬never sounded overstuffed,‭ ‬an impressive accomplishment,‭ ‬and it was especially gratifying to hear such strong male singing,‭ ‬from the‭ ‬Te decet hymnus on.

All in all,‭ ‬a great afternoon at the opera.‭ ‬During last season‭’‬s presentations of the Beethoven Ninth,‭ ‬I wondered whether the Verdi Requiem might not be an even better use of this kind of performing force,‭ ‬and I think Sunday‭’‬s results put the answer to that question resoundingly in the affirmative.‭ ‬The only trouble is that there was only one performance‭; ‬a second one would have given even more people a chance to enjoy a great opera‭ ‬in concert dress.

‭***

The Palm Beach Opera presents two semi-staged performances of Gluck‭’‬s‭ ‬Orfeo ed Euridice on Friday night and Sunday afternoon at the Kravis Center.‭ ‬The cast includes countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo as Orfeo,‭ ‬soprano Nadine Sierra as‭ ‬Euridice and mezzo Irene Roberts as Amor.‭ ‬Performances are set for‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Friday and‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday.‭ ‬Tickets range from‭ ‬$20-$125.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬833-7888‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬www.pbopera.org.

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