wed 21/02/2024

Verdi's Requiem, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Pappano, Parco della Musica, Rome review - peak poignancy | reviews, news & interviews

Verdi's Requiem, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Pappano, Parco della Musica, Rome review - peak poignancy

Verdi's Requiem, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Pappano, Parco della Musica, Rome review - peak poignancy

Electrifying soprano and mezzo rise to this great Verdian's latest challenge

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha and Elina Garanča with Antonio Pappno and the Accademia playersAll images from Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/MUSA

Antonio Pappano is at a hinge in his illustrious career, as the exciting transfer across London from Covent Garden to the London Symphony Orchestra proceeds, and the word "Emeritus" is added to his title as Music Director of his home-from-home in Rome. A good moment, then, for him to make a statement of commitment to the latter, with a shattering, searing account of probably the most terrifying piece of music ever written: Verdi’s incomparable Messa da Requiem.

The evening was dedicated – on the 10th anniversary of this death – to Claudio Abbado’s contribution to Santa Cecilia over 26 seasons of the fifty he was active, though none of his performances here were of this mighty outcry against the outrage of death. Frankly, Pappano’s account of the Requiem on this last night of three was worthy of the invocation, as dramatic as any of the late maestro’s interpretations of Verdi’s masterpiece, and on a par with those of the world’s current reigning Verdiano, Riccardo Muti.

Pappano started as he intended to proceed, with immediate establishment of extreme contrasts: his piano hushed towards pianissimo, and forte often amplified to fortissimo. Contrasts of tempi too, slowing the few moments of respite the Requiem affords, and surges towards its explosive and at times merciless heights. Oppositions of light and shade, hush and hurricane, acceleration and deceleration: So that the overwhelming Dies Irae, huge kernel of the piece, is unleashed with a whiplash out of near-silent depths, and sustained in all its awe and terror, the choir at gale force.

Indeed, both choir and orchestra gave volcanic expression to their charges in this magnificent auditorium – the lead violinist often leaping from his seat to add gymnastic emphasis to his playing. Verdi Requiem in RomePeople joke that the Requiem – written in homage to Italy’s iconic 19th Century writer Alessandro Manzoni, and inseparable from the cause of Italian unification and liberation – was Verdi’s finest opera. And the star of the night along with Pappano did no disservice to that quip: South African soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha’s performance was electrifying: soaring above the ensembles, and taking the final "Libera Me" from whisper to apocalyptic pleading with such dramatic impact it was almost Shakespearean – a notion of which Verdi would have doubtless approved..

So far as soloists were concerned, it was ladies’ night: Elīna Garanča’s mezzo was commanding, from the "Liber Scriptus Proferetur" onwards, and haunting: often more drowning plea than prayer at a Mass for the “passage from death to life”. Baek and Manoshvili were lyrically poetic and persuasive – but both often more overwhelmed than overwhelming, by the tempest let loose around them.

The vast "Dies Irae" done, the "Sanctus" was an exhilaration, and occasion to send the tempo off the leash; the "Agnus Dei" navigated that high wire between humility and grandiosity wonderfully, and the "Lux Aeterna" glowed from within – though Garanča’s exchange with woodwind was appropriately eerie. The recollection of the earlier "whiplash" in the "Libera Me" cued what felt like a deep draw of breath before unleashing the final text and setting: I don’t think I’ve ever heard either so articulately express what they mean and plead: "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine / Et lux perpetua luceat eis / Libera Me, Domine, de morta aeterna / In die illa tremenda" – indeed.  Where those lines ever set as they were by Verdi? Pappano with his Rome playersThe programme was presumably fixed long before we knew how it would speak to the world beyond the auditorium; news from Gaza, Ukraine and elsewhere inevitably poignant in their unspoken presence. A seminar in honour of Abbado before the Requiem’s opening night of three featured Pappano (pictured above with members of his Rome orchestra) alongside the maestro’s son Daniele Abbado, Nigel Osborne, who did so much for music in Bosnia and is now immersed in Ukraine, and the foremost Palestinian musician Ramzi Aburedwan, one of Daniel Barenboim’s East-West Divan project – an articulate statement in itself of this music’s profound universality. 

The essence was one of glorious contrasts within the edifice: of colouration, sonority and tempi; variances and distinctions within the whole cogently crafted to devastating effect. Done in such a way as to explore and convey Verdi’s complex faith: anti-clerical but spiritual, expressed here as primally existential as much as liturgical. Musicians know when something special has happened, as though beyond their control – orchestra and choir hugging one another at the end, as though in self-disbelief.

If there is a kind of "Verdian mantle" that passed from Serafin to Abbado to Muti, Pappano – conducting like this – must surely be next in line.

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