In this bicentenary year, even more Verdi recordings have joined an already burgeoning catalogue. Many feature bigger international names than those found in this recording.
This set is numbered twenty-seven in the Tutto Verdi
series titled, supposedly presenting recordings of all the composer’s operas plus the Requiem
. It’s not quite all the operas as it omits two named major re-writes. The majority have been recorded in association with the Teatro Regio in Parma, the local capital and derive from its annual Verdi festival. The present recording was made in Teatro Farnese, a beautiful building designed by Giovanni Aleotti and built in 1617-18 on the first floor of the Palazzo della Pilotta in Parma. It opened in 1628, and whilst destroyed in World War 2, was reconstructed in perfect detail between 1956 and 1962. It seats three thousand spectators on benches. This DVD affords us brief views of this wonderful setting.
In an appendix to this review, and the conclusion of this Tutto Verdi
series from C Major
, in association with Unitel
, I include some background to Verdi’s attitude to liturgical music and to the composition of this tremendous piece.
A major strength of the Parma performances has been the contribution of the theatre’s chorus. So it proves here as well. Along with the choral contribution, and that of the four soloists, I always listen carefully to hear how the conductor controls the dynamics of the opening Requiem Eternam
(CH.2), the thrilling Tuba Mirum
(CH.5) and the Dies irae
and its reprise. Yuri Temirkanov, Musical Director of the Teatro Regio, passes my tests with an ethereally quiet opening. Add to this a viscerally exciting lead into the Mors stupebit
(CH.6) albeit there is no spread of the trumpets. His contribution is dramatic, not theatrical and is recognised by warm and prolonged applause at the end (CH.22).
Of the soloists, the bass Riccardo Zanellato sings with nice mezza voce
in the Rex tremendae
(CH.9). He couples this with a most welcome depth of tone and sonority in the Mors stupebit.
This Zanellato follows with a smooth contribution to the Confutatis
(CH.12). After a well-phrased and eloquent opening to the Ingemisco
(CH.11), Francesco Meli varies his lyric tenor voice nicely and softens his tone for the words: “my favoured sheep a place for me”. The ladies both have big operatic voices and blend well in the duets. Sonia Ganassi is always steadier with clear declamation. She can hold a legato line better than her soprano colleague who has signs of a wobble in the Agnus Dei
(CH.17). However, her singing of the long concluding Libera me
(CHs.19-21), where she exposes her dramatic voice to the full, involves an impressive “Deliver me O Lord” at the finish.
The bonus documentary introduces us to the countryside of Verdi's beautiful birthplace and the house in Le Roncole, the little village in the vicinity of Parma, where he was born. With the help of local residents it visits the house and estate he developed and always came back to. It was there that he chose to spend most of his life. It is obvious from the many statues and paintings that the great composer, described as “The Glory of Italy”, lives on in the hearts and minds of the locals. There are pictures and mentions of Verdi’s debt to Barezzi, whose daughter, Margherita, he married and with whom he had two children. All three were to die before the production of Nabucco
in 1842, leaving Verdi bereft. There is also mention of the “welcome” Giuseppina Strepponi received when Verdi brought her from liberal Paris to live in Bussetto without the benefit of a sanctified marriage. They married several years later and were buried together in Milan after a long and mutually supportive relationship.
This fifty-two minute bonus is a big plus for this issue. It is an altogether delightful insight into Verdi the man and how his legacy, not to mention his legacies, live on.
Robert J Farr
Previous review: Dan Morgan
Masterwork Index: Messa da Requiem
Appendix: Some background to the music and its composition
In the introductory essay to this issue the matter of Verdi and liturgical music is briefly examined. The composer was not a religious man. Indeed, it is fair to say he was anti-clerical and particularly anti-Pope. Many Monarchists and Republicans fighting, some literally, for the unification of Italy, held these views. This was in response to the activities of holders of the Papal office over that fraught period. Those matters being stated, Verdi equally clearly recognised the place of the Catholic Church in the society in which he lived and worked. This was reflected when Rossini, a fellow Italian he revered, died in November 1868. Even before the Memorial Service had been held in Paris, Verdi wrote to Milan’s Gazzetta Musicale suggesting that the musicians of Italy should unite to honour their great compatriot by combining to write a Requiem
for performance on the anniversary of his death. No one would receive payment for his contribution. The volunteers were each to write one section of the Mass, being drawn by lot. To Verdi, pre-eminent among the names, fell the closing section, the Libera Me
. He had his composition ready in good time despite revising La Forza del Destino
along the way. Problems arose in respect of the chorus and orchestra and the project floundered. Verdi met the costs incurred.
In May 1873, Alessandro Manzoni, another Italian revered by Verdi, died. In the year of Rossini’s death, aided by arrangements connived at by his wife and his long-time friend Clarina Maffei, Verdi visited his idol. He had read Manzoni’s novel I Promessi Sposi
when aged sixteen and in his fifty-third year wrote to a friend, “according to me, (he) has written not only the greatest book of our time but one of the greatest books that ever came out of the human brain.” It was not the nature of Manzoni’s partly historical story that gave the work this ethos, but the language it used. With it Manzoni made vital steps towards a national Italian language to replace the many dialects and foreign administrative languages present in the peninsula. Verdi, as noted an ardent supporter of unification, was so devastated by Manzoni’s death that he could not attend the funeral. The King sent two Princes of the Royal Blood to carry the flanking cords. They were aided by the Presidents of the Senate and Chamber as well as the Ministers of Education and Foreign Affairs. A week after the funeral Verdi went to Milan and visited the grave alone.
Through his publisher, Ricordi, Verdi proposed to the Mayor of Milan that he should write a Requiem Mass
to honour Manzoni. This was to be performed in Milan on the first anniversary of the author’s death. There would be no committee this time. Verdi proposed that he himself would compose the entire Mass, pay the expenses of preparing and printing the music, specify the church for the first performance, choose the singers and chorus, rehearse them and conduct the premiere. The city would pay the cost of the performance. Thereafter the Requiem
would belong to Verdi. The city accepted with alacrity.
With artistic unity guaranteed by the single composer, Verdi intended the work to have a regular place in the repertoire just like his operas. Although he had already composed a Libera Me
for the abortive Rossini Requiem, Verdi largely re-wrote it, thus ensuring even greater compositional coherence than might otherwise have been the case. He selected the Church of San Marco, considering it to have the best proportions and acoustics. On 22 May 1874, the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, with an orchestra of one hundred and a chorus of one hundred and twenty it was given and attracted great acclaim. Three days later Verdi conducted another performance at La Scala which was followed by two more conducted by Faccio. Argument raged that Verdi, although using the ecclesiastical text, had not written music of a sufficiently devotional character. The work is certainly not in the tradition of ecclesiastical works set to counterpoint and fugues. That tradition, it was felt, at least by some purists, did not distract from the religious message. Despite criticisms of this nature the Requiem
travelled to Paris where Verdi was invested with the Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur in 1894. After Paris, there followed acclaimed performances in London and Vienna.
Robert J Farr