Second Thoughts

Second Thoughts
By Henry C. Mayer

K0 Performance of Verdi 'Requiem' Inspiring!

By Henry C. Mayer

The setting was appropriate. The leadership of Alessandro Siciliani was awesome.

The singing of both the four soloists and the chorus was beautiful to say the least. The orchestra's performance was the icing on the cake. We are referring to Kentucky Opera's inspiring and unforgettable performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "Requiem" at the newly renovated Cathedral of the Assumption.

Though highly dramatic and not without its theatrical moments, the "Requiem" is primarily Verdi's unique expression of the Roman Catholic Mass for the deceased. The text is from of old, perhaps some of it going back to Pope Gregory I (590-604) while the words for the awesome "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath —referring to Christ's Second Coming and His Judgment of all humankind) was written by one of the first Franciscans in the first decades of the l3th century.

Verdi wrote this opus to honor and pray for the widely loved Italian writer and patriot Alessandro Manzoni, a contemporary and, like Verdi, caught up in the epic and many-sided struggle for the unification of Italy. It would be impossible for this struggle not to include some elements of anti-clericalism, especially after Pope Pius IX's about face on the independence movement following the violence which accompanied the seizure of Rome in l849-1850. But it is equally important not to confuse and/or identify anti-clericalism with unbelief. Verdi was far from being an unbeliever; here his second wife, Giuseppina, and his librettist, Arrigo Boito, agree. But he was at least ambivalent about the role and posture of the institutional Church.

Maestro Siciliana knows his Verdi; he poured his whole self into this performance, wielding his baton as only an Italian could do. I have heard this work several times and his performance was outstanding. Robin Stamper has done a similar job with the chorus. The soloists, Maryanne Telese (soprano), Susan Shafer (contralto), Patrick Denniston (tenor) and Dong-Jian Gong (bass), were confronted with a continuing challenge to their artistry — almost two hours of continuous attention. While all deserve any and all plaudits, Susan Shafer and Dong-Jian Gong struck me as outstanding to a high degree. Ms. Shafer has a wonderful and talented voice, and here Verdi has given her a Herculean challenge. She was up to it.

The orchestra had its moments — this would not be Verdi without them. But while it threatened to dominate the proceedings, the work remains an opus for the voice and the singing left an unforgettable impression on our hearts and memories.