Utah Symphony and Verdi’s Requiem — What’s Not to Like?

April 10, 2010
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Utah Symphony Chorus_Andrew Litton_Jennifer Check_Elizabeth Bishop_Robert Breault_Kevin Short

There’s a first time for everything and  Friday night was my first exposure to Verdi.

Most people know his name,  and many can probably come up with one of the works Giuseppe Verdi is famous for.  When I think of Verdi, I think of La Traviata, although others may be more familiar with Falstaff, Otello,  or Aida.

But knowing his name and knowing his works are two different things.  I can now say I am familiar with both his name AND one of his works!  It’s a start.

This weekend, the Utah Symphony presented Verdi’s Requiem.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew it involved the Utah Symphony, a large chorus, and 4 soloists – a soprano, a mezzo-soprano, a tenor, and a bass baritone (I did have to look that up).  Oh, and I presumed it would not be in English.

I knew the performers, but that was it. Sometimes I like to be surprised before I attend the symphony, sometimes I like to be well informed.  This time, I went for the element of surprise.

As I sat in my seat at Abravanel Hall, I flipped through the program to acquaint myself with Verdi’s Requiem. What IS a Requiem after all?  I figured it had to do with some sort of remembrance for someone who died, but it’s a bit more than that.  A Requiem is actually a Mass or a musical service to honor the dead.  And in Verdi’s Requiem, Verdi is honoring the lives of two people;  Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, and Italian composer Gioachino Rossini.

I appreciated that the text was translated into English and projected above the stage, but I found that it was easier for me to read along with the program because repetitive passages didn’t seem to be projected and it was easy for me to get lost.  The program was also helpful in that it explained each section of the Mass, who was singing, the text as written as well as translated, and background information for the whole Requiem.

This was also the first time that I didn’t concentrate solely on the orchestra, which is only bad for me because I want to pay attention to all of it!

There is so much about Verdi’s Requiem that I absolutely loved.  The music, the singers, the orchestration – it was all amazing!  And even though this piece was created as a religious remembrance service, it stand as alone as an phenomenal and passionate work of art.

Among the highlights were conductor Andrew Litton’s energy and passion.  His fist pumping with the bass drum and his jumping up and down, vigorously punctuating the unison, strength and energy of the 100+ person chorus, the quartet and the orchestra, were nothing short of really exciting!

I thought that soprano Jennifer Check sang beautifully.  The strength of her voice was never overpowering and it sounded so pretty and light at times, particularly when she sang softly or in duet with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop.

Tenor Robert Breault sang with such emotion it almost looked as if he was going to cry as he plead for God’s forgiveness and mercy.  I felt his anguish and was captivated by his plea.

Bass-Baritone Kevin Short was sublime.  His low voice was smooth, and like soprano Jennifer Check he added vocal beauty in all the right ways.

There isn’t anything about Verdi’s Requiem that I didn’t like. Nothing. It is an amazing work, and all the musicians were outstanding.  I look forward to hearing it many more times, and to having the opportunity to embrace each of its parts, the singers and orchestral performers, individually and as a whole.

Loved it!

Photos courtesy of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.