Wednesday, May 16, 2018

All's right with the world

I'm back with more Verdi. Had to take some time off after the Eurovision Song Contest. I was totally spent after watching that. This is why I don't go to movies--if a television commercial has me in tears, and a song contest wears me out completely, I just can't bear to invest that much time and emotion in a 90-minute narrative story. I'd want to throw myself off Tower Bridge. (Doing it from the George Washington Bridge is so déclassé!)

Anyway, this is the third Verdi Requiem in this series, and my third medium of enjoying it. First was watching a DVD in my living room. Second was a CD on my crappy car stereo. This time it was a full-length YouTube video with stereo headphones on. Of the three, I don't recommend the crappy car stereo. The stereo headphones offered benefits neither of the other media did--most clearly evidenced in the true stereo effect when the various brass choirs entered in the "Tuba mirum" section.

This was a 2013 La Scala performance, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the chorus and orchestra therefrom and soloists Anja Harteros, Elina Garanča, Jonas Kaufmann, and René Pape, all of whom I've praised in these pages. Once again I praise the chorus and orchestra of La Scala--among the finest examples of either in the world!--and I must say I liked this performance by Mr. Barenboim. I don't often notice a conductor unless he's bad or makes exceptionally wise and sensitive choices. In this case, I loved the dynamic shading and the phrasing. I loved his attention to his singers. The overall performance was quite different from the 1967 La Scala performance conducted by some other dude I wrote of recently. Both are beautiful and completely valid in my book.

Daniel Barenboim in action
Screen grab from YouTube video above
I am in love with Elina Garanča. The first time I saw her was several years ago, singing Angelina in La Cenerentola, and singing it very, very well. She announced that that production was her last coloratura role, and since she has done more serious roles. I've seen her as Charlotte in Werther (I think I have--in any case, I know she's done it lots) and Sara in Roberto Devereux. Always convincing, always spot on vocally. Can she be heard in Verdi quartets? You bet she can! And she sounds great. Her "Lux aeterna" was a shimmering delight.

Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Daniel Barenboim
Screen grab from the YouTube video above
And I really must say that any woman singer is very brave to wear an off-the-shoulder dress when singing. Remember the crowd--eyes won't be on her boobs, but rather on her throat and shoulders. Not a sign of tension or extraneous movement anywhere! (At this point I must rib all the teachers who advised I use a mirror while practicing, but never once told me what to look for. It was Debbie Crawford, of blessed memory--the teacher I went to after my second graduate school!--who clued me in. Am I pushing my tongue down or is it relaxed? Are my shoulders moving? Is there any movement that shouldn't be there?)

Anja Harteros in a blissful moment from the Libera me
Screen grab from the YouTube video above
Several years ago I wrote that Anja Harteros had delivered the most beautiful Non mi dir I'd ever heard. I still stand by that assertion. I've long been a fan of her singing, and I was glad to hear her interpretation of this fiendishly difficult role. I was not disappointed. Beautiful sound, nuanced delivery, an aura of complete comfort and mastery--what's not to love? I adored the "Agnus Dei"--the movement in which soprano and mezzo sing in parallel octaves. It was spine-tingling. I will try to refrain from comparing performances as I do these Verdi Requiem posts, but let us say that her "Libera me" stands proudly alongside other great performances.

Jonas Kaufmann. Yeah, I guess he's OK.

I kid! He's pretty damn good in this performance, too! I think I this role is quite appropriate for his voice, and his voice for this role. Nowadays we often see lighter tenors singing the Verdi Requiem, and although many do give good performances, overall we want more sound. We want meat. Blood on the floor if necessary. It is Verdi after all! Herr Kaufmann delivered sound and passion and sensitivity we dream of. So what if the trill in the sotto voce sections of the "Offertorio" were a challenge to him? In the end we don't care, and that's what a fine interpretation from a fine singer gives us.

I adore René Pape. I loved him in the Kenneth Branagh Magic Flute film, and I've seen and loved live performances several times as well. The man can do no wrong. (OK, he did fall into the "Mors stupebit" intonation trap, but only a little, and he got himself out of it.) I can say nothing except that this is a very fine, intelligent, sensitive singer. Go ye and hear him at every opportunity!

One might suspect from what I write above that I quite liked this performance. Well, I did. Flawless? No. Is any performance ever flawless? Great? Yes. Moving? Definitely! After the horrors of the second Verdi Requiem I posted about, this was balm for my weary soul. Which needs lots of balm. I have included a link to the actual video so that you can enjoy it, too, and will also include fun screen grabs.

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