Verdi's Requiem Brought Vividly to Life

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The most operatic Requiem in the repertoire is, not exactly surprisingly, Verdi's. The New Dominion Chorale, with a 50-piece orchestra and an unusually well-matched quartet of soloists, presented this Requiem in all its splendor and excess on Sunday at Schlesinger Concert Hall of Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

First performed in 1874, three years after "Aida," Verdi's Requiem sometimes borrows: Its "Tuba Mirum" trumpet fanfares are almost direct quotations from Berlioz's "Grande Messe des Morts." It sometimes pays homage to the past: "Sanctus" and "Libera Me" contain academically correct fugues, their themes inversions of each other. And it is sometimes pure Verdi: The dynamic range is huge, and the recurring "Dies Irae," with pounding bass drum, is hyper-dramatic.

Thomas Beveridge conducted the work with both grandeur and attention to detail. The New Dominion Chorale, well over 200 strong, sang not only with power but with delicacy and grace.

The vibrant-voiced soloists, individually and together, were excellent. Carmella Jones's rich mezzo-soprano was especially affecting at the start of the "Lacrymosa." Tenor Benjamin Warschawski was particularly heartfelt in the "Ingemisco." Baritone John Cheek delivered "Mors Stupebit" with intensity. Best of all was soprano Sharon Christman, her lovely voice penetrating the massed forces, providing ethereal beauty in the "Offertorio" and emotional intensity in "Libera Me."

Verdi, an agnostic, structured his Requiem for maximum musical impact and flow, thus creating (for example) a "Sanctus" so lighthearted as to be almost flippant. This Requiem may not be liturgically exact, but under Beveridge's direction, it was undeniably cathartic.

-- Mark J. Estren

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