'Requiem' a triumphal close

 

ISO Classical Series Program No. 20

Hilbert Circle Theatre

June 13-14

Last weekend ended an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra classical-series season that saw increased attendance, the first use of temporary stage extensions for choreography plus other visual complements to the music and finally the first Circle Theatre performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic Manzoni Requiem (1874). Verdi’s setting of the Catholic Mass for the Dead is the greatest piece of religious music from the Romantic era, as well as its biggest. ISO music director Mario Venzago returned to the podium, along with four vocal soloists, 24 singers from IU’s Apollo’s Voice interspersed among 166 singers of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir to cap the orchestra’s 20-concert season in fine fashion.

The orchestra employed a shorter stage extension than those previously used for dance, but enough that the entire choir could be located on risers directly in back of the players — all facing forward. Previously, considerable portions of the choir had to stand on the left and right upper stage, such that they sang across to each other rather than directly to the audience. The improvement was palpable.

At the last minute, soprano Indra Thomas substituted for scheduled soprano Angela Marie Blasi. The other soloists were mezzo Guang Yang, tenor Eduardo Villa and bass Peter Rose. At times they blended well, with Yang being dominant over Thomas in their respective duet parts — not to mention Yang’s having more singing parts throughout. Thomas had the final section, “Libera Me,” to herself, where her soft-inclined voice ranged from well controlled to a bit uneven.

Yang delivered a rich, also well-controlled, voice in her lower registers, whose vibrato occasionally became too wide in her upper ones. Villa’s voice was the most consistent of the four, especially in the “Ingemisco tamquam reus,” where he had all the singing. Rose projected a thinner voice, especially in his lowest registers, though his vocal timbres were pleasant and effective.

The chorus had its real workout in two places: the “Sanctus” and the final part of the “Libera Me,” which saw much rapid part and contrapuntal singing. Its precision in these sections was as good as I’ve heard it. Choir director Eric Stark and Apollo’s Voice director Jan Harrington are both to be commended.

Finally, the orchestra had its say in three well-separated statements of the mighty “Dies Irae,” entirely original with Verdi and not the plainsong made so popular by Berlioz, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. The first one was followed by the “Tuba miram,” with four trumpets playing antiphonally from the upper mezzanine. Whatever else one may term it, this is theater music, and Venzago had its measure from start to finish — a triumphal close to a splendid season.

 

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