Last night was one of those much anticipated nights – the Verdi Requiem by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Antonio Pappano conducted and the quartet of singers included two of the bigger names around today, Anja Harteros and Sonia Ganassi and two of the biggest, Rolando Villazon and René Pape. All three scheduled performances were sold out – despite there being many empty seats – and are being recorded for release later in the year by EMI. We were respectful asked to try and keep coughing and noise to a minimum – so of course some fool let out a huge hack as the chorus started into the pianissimo passage that begins the piece.
Now I’m the first one to start bitching when bloggers compare old recordings to current live performances, its an apples and kumquats situation. However, and because its me writing I can have a however, where the Requiem is concerned I have certain sounds in my mind’s ear. The first recording I owned of it was the old EMI pressing with Sir John Barbarolli leading Montserrat Caballé, Fiorenza Cossotto, Jon Vickers and Ruggerio Raimondi. Sir John had worked with the New Phil and Chorus for years and even in a work as monumental as this had a way of making it seem intimate and human when needed. The blend of voices worked, not always an easy thing with Vickers in particular, especially Caballé-Cossotto. Their Agnes Dei sounded like one voice – perhaps it stayed in my mind because it was almost otherworldly. It may have been a trick of the recording studio but even without the recording, sadly I don’t believe it was ever reissued, I can still hear it.
Which brings us back to last evening’s performance. If EMI plans to issue this as a recording they are definitely going to need a few mixing room tricks. It just didn’t work and I feel much of that has to do with Antonio Pappano.
I have a problem with Pappano – I am not as enamoured of him as much of the Roman audience seems to be. There are times when he is good and times when he is, frankly, bad. And like the little girl with the curl, when he is good he is very, very good and when he is bad, he’s dull! Last night was a dull night. I can’t fault either the magnificent chorus – is there anything these people can’t do – or orchestra – I agree with Opera Chic they are the best in Italy; they responded to his interpretation faultlessly. It the interpretation that bothered me. We had molto fortissimo, we had molto pianissimo but we had little in between and, for me at least, in this work it is those in between parts that give it emotional power.
And it is going to take a bit of studio mixing to get the voice balance right between the soloists and orchestra. There were times when the sound swamped the singers and at times the voices just didn’t mix well. I am not one of those fans who glory in the failure of singer X, Y or Z, what they do is hard work and demands consideration but last night’s quartet just didn’t work. Harteros didn’t float in the Libera Me, not that it was a bad performance just that it didn’t have that incandescence you want for mankind’s plea to God for release from death. And her voice was not the ideal blend with Ganassi who did some of the best singing of the evening. Pape was good but I am becoming more convinced that he is a baritone more than bass – I felt the same way after the Elijah in November. Villazon was not having a good night. I really don’t believe he is a Verdi tenor – or at least not late Verdi. The Ingemisco was fine but just didn’t ring out and he seemed to have trouble in the Domini Jesu.
It was one of those much anticipated nights that, disappointingly, just didn’t take off and it will be interesting to see what the EMI engineers make of it. Meanwhile we’ll have another opportunity to hear the Requiem in June when Daniel Barenboin and his La Scala forces make the trip down from Milano. Oddly enough the quartet includes Ganassi and Papé but with Barbara Frittoli and Marcello Giordani as soprano and tenor. It almost sounds like another recording project.
Special kudos to Percussionist Marco Bugarini, his beating on the big bass drum would have indeed had the dead awakening.
10 gennaio – San Pietro I Orseolo