Verdi Requiem

And so we pick up in September where we left off in June: with orchestra and voices in symbiotic, compelling expression of the human condition. Where Mozart’s comic Marriage of Figaro, one of the greatest operas ever written, concluded our 2018/2019 program, we begin this season’s journey with what has often been described as Verdi’s ‘greatest opera’, his Requiem Mass. Dedicated to the writer Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi deeply admired, it is a work that brings the Mass for the Dead to life with a blistering drama only ever matched by Mozart’s incomplete Requiem. The power of this masterpiece remains undimmed today, 145 years after its premiere, and it is my hope that this curtain raiser will prove as inspiring, moving and passionate as the season to come. On behalf of the entire NAC Orchestra family, a warm welcome back to Southam Hall and here’s to unforgettable moments together!


The NAC Orchestra’s first performance of Verdi’s Requiem took place in 1998 under the direction of Helmuth Rilling, with Alessandra Marc, Jard van Nes, Gerald Gray and Simon Estes as soloists. The Orchestra’s most recent interpretation of this work, presented in 2012 with Pinchas Zukerman on the podium, featured the singers Adrianne Pieczonka, Measha Brueggergosman. Anita Krause, James Valenti and Eric Owens.


Verdi

Requiem

Born in Le Roncole, October 10, 1813
Died in Milan, January 27, 1901

Verdi’s Requiem stands at the very pinnacle of the sacred choral repertoire for its passionate sincerity, expressive intensity and dramatic – at times even theatrical – power. Only one Requiem before it (that of Berlioz) and one after (Britten’s War Requiem) can match Verdi’s in scope and grandeur.

The history of Verdi’s Requiem is bound up in the deaths of two of Italy’s greatest cultural heroes, the composer Gioachino Rossini and the writer Alessandro Manzoni. Rossini died in 1868, a living legend even forty years after he had written his final opera. To honour his memory, Verdi conceived the idea of asking a dozen composers each to contribute a section of a composite Mass to be performed in Bologna on the first anniversary of his death (November 13). Verdi’s own contribution would be the concluding Libera me.

Why Bologna? Because this was the city where Rossini had grown up, studied and produced his first opera. The city council approved the plan, the composers (important then but none of whom is even a faintly recognized name today) were assigned their parts, and soloists were booked. But as the performance date approached, it became increasingly apparent that the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Comunale were not going to offer their services gratis as everyone else involved had agreed to do, and the whole plan disintegrated. Verdi was bitterly disappointed. The music was collected and deposited in the archives of the publishing firm of Ricordi. Nothing more was heard of it until over a century later, when its first performance in modern times was conducted in 1988 by Helmut Rilling in Stuttgart.

Verdi’s Libera me lay quietly forgotten for several years while the composer involved himself with Aida and other matters. Enter a figure named Alberto Mazzucato – composer, critic, professor at the Milan Conservatory, and one of the members of the Rossini commemoration committee. Having seen Verdi’s Libera me at Ricordi’s, he was moved to write the composer: “You, my dear maestro, have written the most beautiful, the most magnificent, the most colossally poetic page one can imagine. Nothing more perfect has been done so far; nothing beyond it can ever be done.” This effusive praise, to which Verdi replied in equally complimentary terms, was apparently the catalyst that stirred Verdi to contemplate writing an entire Requiem himself. He had already begun when the news reached him of the death of the revered novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni on May 22, 1873.

Manzoni, born in 1785, was the leader of the Italian romantic school and his country’s greatest literary figure of the nineteenth century. Manzoni also, like Verdi, was one of Italy’s leading public figures in the struggle for Italian independence and unification. Both of these great artists were widely regarded as symbols of the new Italy. Both were elected to the first Italian parliament in 1861. It was only fitting that Verdi would die 28 years later at the same age as Manzoni, 88.

Verdi immediately resolved to complete his Requiem and dedicate it to the memory of Manzoni. He proposed to the mayor that the first anniversary of the death of Manzoni be marked by the premiere of his Requiem, all expenses to be borne by the City of Milan. All came to pass as scheduled, without the bickering that attended the Rossini fiasco five years earlier. The venue chosen was the thirteenth-century, Lombard-Gothic style Church of St. Mark’s, and the event was such a triumph that three additional performances had to be scheduled at La Scala.

The Requiem opens in a mood of hushed mystery, “as if with a reverent, head-bowing gesture” (James Hepokoski). A normal Mass would begin with the Kyrie, but this being a Requiem Mass, it is introduced by the Introit consisting of the antiphon “Requiem aeternam dona eis” (Eternal rest grant them) and the psalm “Te decet hymnus” (A hymn becometh Thee), the latter sung a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment). The solo voices make their successive entries in the Kyrie, where the tempo quickens and the mood brightens for the prayer for mercy.

The Dies irae is by far the longest section of the Requiem. In its opening pages Verdi pulls out all the stops, unleashing the full power of his large orchestra and chorus in its portrayal of the terrors of Judgment Day. In those “downward chromatic phrases of the opening verse the whole universe seems to slide to ruin,” writes Dyneley Hussey. In eight further sub-sections, the peoples’ hopes, fears, and pleas for salvation are portrayed by the various soloists in moods ranging from hushed awe to terrified outbursts. Twice more the electrifying opening verse returns. The frightening power and visceral impact of this music caused some of the Requiem’s early critics to complain that it was too operatic, too theatrical, not dignified or ecclesiastical enough. For these critics, the noted New York critic Lawrence Gilman had the answer: “Are not the words themselves dramatic, lurid, theatrical enough, in all conscience? Are the basic conceptions that underlie the text: the thoughts, visions, prayers of the believer – are these reserved and sober and austere? The thought of the Judgment Day, when the graves shall give up their dead, when the heavens shall be rolled together like a scroll and the world becomes ashes; the thought of the trumpets of the Resurrection; the thought of the horror of the everlasting darkness, of the fiery lake, of the agonies of damnation; the thought of universal lamentation, supplication, dread: what music could be too dramatic, lurid, vehement, theatrical to come within speaking distance of such appalling conceptions?”

The Offertorio is more intimate in character, at times taking on a chamber music quality. It omits the chorus but spotlights all four soloists, both individually and as an ensemble. It is laid out in an arch form, ABCBA. The outer sections are set to a gently rocking rhythm that develops from the opening solo cello lines. Verdi withholds the timbre of the bright soprano voice until the appropriate pictorial moment: at the words “sed signifer sanctus Michael…,” where St. Michael will bring the souls of the faithful from the maws of hell to the holy light that God promised to Abraham and his seed. At the mention of “Abraham and his seed,” the music quickens and enters the “B” section of the arch to a brief canonic treatment of the initial motif, thus suggesting the progeny generated by Abraham. The central Hostias is music of quiet radiance and inner peace, introduced by the tenor dolcissimo (very sweetly).

The Sanctus is short but spirited, and contains the only truly joyous music in the Requiem, a fugue sung by double chorus (in eight parts). Near the end of this contrapuntal tour de force Verdi adds a spine-tingling effect in the form of a run up and down the chromatic scale, played fortissimo by every single instrument from tuba to piccolo.

The Agnus Dei is, by contrast, the essence of simplicity. The opening for solo soprano and mezzo singing quietly and dolcissimo in octaves is as memorable in its own way as was the terrifying outburst that opened the Dies irae. Francis Toye calls it music of “mystical beauty.” This thirteen-bar duet is then repeated in five different ways, each time to different scoring: chorus and orchestra in unison and octaves in the first; the two soloists (now in the minor mode) accompanied by woodwinds and violas in the second; chorus and orchestra in a harmonization in the third (only six measures long); the soloists and three flutes in the fourth; soloists, chorus and orchestra in another harmonization for the fifth.

The Lux aeterna opens with a shimmering background of violins divided into six parts, against which the mezzo quietly intones the prayer for perpetual light. The bass makes the same plea, but in solemn tones to the tread of a funeral march. After two more repetitions (including one for a cappella solo trio), Verdi introduces some felicitous woodwind writing that brings to mind the delicacy of scoring in the evening scene on the Nile in Aida (opening of Act III).

The solo soprano, silent throughout the Lux aeterna, suddenly springs to the fore at the beginning of the Libera me. In terrified tones that might well have come from an operatic recitative, she implores the Deity for salvation from the agonies of hell. From this point on, the movement serves as a summary of the entire Requiem, revisiting or recalling various parts of the enormous edifice: a literal reprise of the opening of the Dies irae, a return to the music of solemn mystery that opened the entire Requiem, now scored for solo soprano and a cappella choir; a fugue set to the rhythm and to a melodic inversion of the Sanctus; and other references to the past. This is not, incidentally, exactly the same Libera me Verdi composed for the aborted Rossini commemoration five years earlier; it has been somewhat revised, mostly in matters of scoring. The Requiem closes with the chorus intoning a final supplication for deliverance, now in an almost inaudible whisper that seems to disappear into the farthest reaches of the cosmos.

The emotional impact and expressive power of Verdi’s Requiem have stimulated innumerable paeans of praise. Here is what Herbert Elwell wrote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1953: “One comes away with an impression like the mighty sweep and grandeur of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, or the flying pennants and golden lions of San Marco in Venice. There is an outpouring of the spirit in this work that defies description. It leaves one weak and unstrung by the tremendous current of its inspiration.”

– Program notes by Robert Markow

Chorus

Choristers from: 
Cantata Singers of Ottawa (CSO)
Ottawa Choral Society

Rehearsal Pianists: 
Frédéric Lacroix
Scott Richardson

Rehearsal Soloists:
Lynlee Wolstencroft, soprano
Carole Portelance, mezzo-soprano
Philip Klaassen, tenor
Ryan Hofman, baritone

________
Soprano

Carol Anderson OCS
Kristi Aruja CSO
Sandra Bason OCS
Stephanie Brassard OCS
Loretta Cassidy OCS
Sheilah Craven OCS
Heather Crowther *
Renée Dahn OCS
Valeria Dimitrova OCS
Kathy Dobbin OCS
Valerie Douglas CSO
Janet Doyle OCS
Carol Fahie OCS
Jane Flook OCS
Janet Fraser OCS
Rachel Gagnon OCS
Deirdre Garcia CSO
Beth Granger OCS
Christy Harris OCS
Natasha Harwood CSO
Julie Henderson OCS
Susan Hodgson *
Susan Joss OCS
Floralove Katz OCS
Sharon Keenan-Hayes CSO
Alison Lamont OCS
Lucie Laneville CSO
Anna Lehn OCS
Joyce Lundberg OCS
Pat MacDonald OCS
Mary Martel-Cantelon OCS
Margaret McCoy OCS
Jessyca Morgan CSO
Colleen Morris CSO
Shailla Nargundkar OCS
Derry Neufeld OCS
Cathy Patton CSO
Nancy Savage OCS
Susan Scott OCS
Jane Sly OCS
Kachusa Szeto *
Ellen Tsai *
Veronique Vonderau *
Uyen Vu OCS
Lynlee Wolstencroft */**
Jean Wylie *
Hiroko Yokota-Adachi CSO
Karen Zarrouki *

Alto
Barbara Ackison CSO
Joan Auden *
Nicole Bélecque *
Ruth Belyea OCS
Frances Berkman OCS
Tracey Brethour *
Trish Brooks CSO
Jennifer Brown OCS
Judy Brush CSO
Frances Buckley OCS
Lisa Callahan OCS
Maureen Carpenter OCS
Sue Chapman OCS
Jackie Clark *
Vickie Classen Iles CSO
Barbara Collins OCS
Barbara Colton OCS
Janet Cover CSO
Jennifer Davis OCS
Margaret Fritz *
Mary Beth Garneau OCS
Mary Gordon CSO
Adele Graf OCS
Carolyn Greve *
Tara Hall *
Lisa Hans OCS
Catherine Helferty *
Paula Helmer OCS
Lisanne Hendelman OCS
Jennifer Hicks OCS
Sharon Hiebert OCS
Pein-Pein Huang CSO
Maureen Hutchinson OCS
Patricia Jackson OCS
Eileen Johnson CSO
Katharine Kirkwood *
Margot Lange *
Grace Mann CSO
Lois Marion OCS
Beth Martin OCS
Nora McBean OCS
Kathryn McCarthy OCS
Andi Murphy CSO
Chantal Phan OCS
Carole Portalance */**
Eileen Reardon OCS
Heather Reid OCS
Peggy Robinson *
Nesta Scott OCS
Elizabeth Shore OCS
Sally Sinclair OCS
Heidi Sprung OCS
Claire Thompson OCS
Danielle Tremblay OCS

Tenor
Vicken Avrikian OCS
Gary Boyd CSO
Noah Bragança OCS
Diane Chevrier OCS
Tim Coonen OCS
Neil Crawford CSO
Kim Current OCS
Marc de La Durantaye *
Charles Donnelly OCS
John Goldsmith OCS
Bill Graham OCS
Toby Greenbaum OCS
Jim Howse OCS
Ross Jewell CSO
Philip Klaassen* */**
Roy Lidstone OCS
Louis Majeau OCS
Alf Mallin OCS
Karl Mann CSO
Michel Marinier OCS
Simon McMillan OCS
John Moffat OCS
Mark Munday *
David Palframan OCS
Sue Postlethwaite OCS
Martin Presenza OCS
Charles Pryce *
Peter Robb *
Kent Siebrasse OCS
JF Tardif *

________
Bass
Paul Badertscher OCS
George Bailey OCS
Ron Bell *
Chris Berry OCS
Terry Brynaert *
Roger Butt OCS
Sholto Cole OCS
Mark Dumbrique CSO
Andrew Hodgson CSO
Ryan Hofman */**
Greg Huyer CSO
Peter Janzen OCS
Björn Johansson CSO
Gary King OCS
Doug MacDonald OCS
Ian MacMillan OCS
Christopher Mallory CSO
J.P. McElhone, CSO
Craig McIntyre OCS
Peter McRae CSO
Gerald Oakham OCS
Bruce Pettipas *
Andrew Rodger OCS
Mathieu Roussel-Lewis OCS
Mathieu Roy OCS
Daniel Savoie CSO
Glen Seeds CSO
Mark Silver OCS
Gavriel Swayze OCS
Tim Thompson OCS
Rodney Williamson *
John Young CSO

* Guest chorister  |  ** Rehearsal Soloist


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