Operatic Requiem

Giuseppe Verdi was the foremost operatic composer of 19th-century Italy: the popular arias from his works were the song hits of the day - errand-boys whistled them, military bands played them, and amateurs performed them at home with varying degrees of success.

He wrote very few non-operatic works, the most famous of which came about in an odd way. When Rossini died in 1868 Verdi proposed that a special Requiem Mass should be composed by the leading Italian composers, each composing a section. Verdi composed the final section, the Libera Me. However because of various difficulties it was never performed.

In 1873, on the death of the poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, highly respected by Verdi as a patriot, Verdi, remembering his earlier composition, was sufficiently moved to offer to compose a Requiem without charge: it was performed in 1874 in St. Mark's Church, Rome.

The work has become lastingly popular. Though constructed like any other Requiem Mass, the style is (as one might expect) operatic and dramatic rather than copying the more usual religious style. In particular the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is overpoweringly forceful, with a dramatic intensity worthy of the storm which opens Otello. The full range of operatic techniques is used, with some moving and intense quiet patches, and soaring lines from the four solo vocalists.

It's uncertain how much of the final Libera Me is drawn from the 1868 original: obviously considerable re-writing was done, as the stormy opening of the Dies Irae returns, together with references to other movements. My own guess is that the final fugue comes, with some revision, from the original: it seems to reflect Verdi's earlier style whereas the sudden development for Aida and Otello (the latter followed the Requiem) shows in most of the other music. But this is a guess, not an informed musicological deduction!

In this evening's performance at the Royal Festival Hall Vladimir Jurowski conducted the London Philharmonic Choir, the Philharmonia Chorus, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra: the soloists were Barbara Frittolo (soprano), Ildiko Komlosi (mezzo), Massimo Giordano (tenor) and Ferrucio Furlanetto (bass). Despite a few very minor rough edges and a tendency for the tenor to slide up to his high notes (both preferable to the clinical result of over-editing so common in recordings) the performance was dynamic and gripping. Verdi certainly gave Manzino a magnificent send-off, and the performance did it full justice.

The concert was recorded by the BBC and will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on April 29th on Radio 3.

Posted: Sat - April 26, 2008 at 10:06 PM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM