Verdi’s Requiem at Tanglewood
July 27, 2013 performance; by Dave Read
Maestro Carlo Montanaro conducted a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Tanglewood, leading four vocal soloists, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in filling the Koussevitsky Music Shed and environs with sound sufficient to console, frighten, excite, and mollify. Verdi composed his “religious opera” in memory of his friend Alessandro Manzoni, using material (the Libera me) that he had originally composed for an abandoned collaborative work that was to honor Gioachino Rossini. Montanaro, substituting for the BSO’s new music director Andris Nelsons, injured when he banged his head on a door, swapped vacation plans for the seemingly immense job of leading 250 musicians in a performance of such a complex and familiar work.
It must have felt like deja vu all over again to BSO management, having finally settled on a young and fit successor to James Levine, whose BSO tenure was marred by lengthy stints on injured reserve. The Latvian Nelsons, who signed a five year contract BSO and threw the ceremonial first pitch for the Red Sox at Fenway Park the same day in June, probably doesn’t know the story of Wally Pipp, the New York Yankee first baseman who took a day off because of a headache in 1925, only to be substituted for by Lou Gehrig, who held the job every day for the next 14 years!
While he recuperated at home, Maestro Nelsons’ wife, soprano Kristine Opolais was on stage, along with mezzo soprano Lioba Braun, tenor Dmytro Popov, and bass-baritone Eric Owens, all of whom gave bravura performances. Here is how she described the accident to the Boston Globe “It was dark, and the door was closed, and he didn’t see it. He’s big, and he’s like a big child. It is comic.”
Attending such a performance at Tanglewood on a pleasant summer evening in the Berkshires, with a pretty full house and a very full stage holding some 200 musicians and singers, is a stimulating experience. Verdi’s Requiem opens in whispers and draws to a close in the quiet. That seems a particularly good musical idea, without a readily apparent real world analogue. Unless you view a life as an event that occurs between rests? At any rate, so one is led gently into and finally eased out of the terrific Sturm und Drang that comprises the lively 80+ minutes within. But music’s job on the mind ought not overwhelm its work on the body, so it is good to will the mind quiet during a concert. Not easy, but good.
Judging from the audience’s response, Montanaro hit it out of the park; the ovation was loud and sustained for ten minutes or so. And he enjoyed it too, sharing his response on Twitter:
Beautiful Verdi Requiem!!… Deep emotions and great music!.. Thanks to everybody for this touching performance!!..hope to see you soon..
— Carlo Montanaro (@carlomontanaro) July 28, 2013