Messa di Requiem

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Even before its first performance, Verdi’s Requiem had a reputation for being an “opera in ecclesiastical dress”. And with its flamboyant orchestral gestures, massed choral entries and arioso solo passages - Verdi lifted the Lacrymosa from an excised duet in Don Carlos - it can be easy to lose sight of the Requiem's sacred function. But one should resist the temptation to overplay this conception, and Verdi's use of operatic idioms and techniques is carefully tied both to the text - which is, after all, very theatrical compared to the regular mass - and to his own politico-religious intentions in composing it.

Conductor Antonio Pappano's conception of the work veers toward the liturgical side of the spectrum. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have explained this to Micaela Carosi, replacing an indisposed Barbara Frittoli. Carosi is a magnificent soprano, with immense range and a grand stage manner drawn straight from the classic diva mould. But she has her off-days and this, sadly, was one of them. Frequently wayward both in intonation and effect, Carosi seemed intent on pursuing a histrionic interpretation of the work at odds with Pappano's.

The contrast with the other soloists was at its starkest with the Russian mezzo Olga Borodina, whose monumental diction and rock-steady tone (she, at any rate, was clear that the Requiem is a liturgical work) held fast as granite against the onslaught of variegated emotions besieging her right ear. Ildar Abdrazakov's capacious bass was similarly unmoved, and any flights of fancy explored by the fine Polish tenor Piotr Beczala were quickly reined in by Pappano. The chorus was in tremendous voice, and the ROH orchestra, glad to be on show for once, was excellent, the strings fizzing and the brass ripping clean through the somewhat boxy acoustic of the on-stage panelling.

Popular Posts