Luisi, Dallas Symphony bring operatic drama to Verdi Requiem

Fri Nov 11, 2022 at 2:36 pm
By J. Robin Coffelt
Fabio Luisi conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Requiem Thursday night. Photo: Sylvia Elzafon

It should probably come as no surprise that some of the greatest requiems were written by masterful opera composers.

In addition to their expertise in vocal writing, the subjects of the requiem mass—death, terror, redemption—are familiar tropes in secular opera, too. And the circumstances under which some requiems were composed only adds to their drama. Mozart began his requiem on his deathbed, leaving its completion to others. Britten wrote his War Requiem to honor the victims of the World War II. 

But the most operatic of all requiems is that of Giuseppe Verdi. While the circumstances of its composition are not as storied as that of Mozart and Britten’s contributions to the genre, it did invite controversy, not least because it uses women soloists and chorus members. (At the time of its composition, in 1874, women were not allowed to perform in rituals of the Catholic church. )  Verdis Requiem also was seen by some critics as too operatic in style for a religious work. Clearly, though, by the twentieth century Verdi’s Requiem had caught on, as much for its operatic nature as in spite of it.

As performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus this weekend, under the baton of music director Fabio Luisi, the Verdi Requiem retains every bit of that operatic drama. And unlike some recent concerts, the house was nearly full Thursday night.

Luisi is known for his affinity and skill at conducting opera, so it is no surprise that he would bring that ability to bear with the Verdi Reqiuem. Luisi’s gestures, robust without excessive theatricality, were clear even from the audience side. The chorus, brilliantly prepared as listeners have come to expect under guest chorus director Ferdinando Sulla, created drama with extreme and subtle dynamic contrasts, from softest pianissimos to roaring fortissimos in each iteration of the Dies irae. Ensemble was breathtaking, especially considering the large size of the chorus.

Photo: Sylvia Elzafon

Of the four soloists, Adriana González wowed with an absolutely radiant soprano, her highest registers floating over orchestra and chorus and filling the Meyerson in the Quid sum miser. Tamara Mumford’s mezzo was chocolaty and rich, and Piero Pretti’s tenor was dramatic enough for any Verdian role. While bass Joshua Bloom has a big, buttery voice, substantial pitch issues distracted, and created problems in the unaccompanied quartet of the Lux aeterna

The orchestra was tight and focused, even in the thorniest sections, and indeed many highlights of the evening came as much from the instrumentalists as the singers. The Tuba mirum, in which four trumpets called from the second balconies, filled the Meyerson with glorious sound. While it represents the Day of Judgment, this Tuba mirum was truly heavenly.

The Verdi Requiem is the kind of music at which the Dallas Symphony Orchestra excels under Fabio Luisi. Flamboyant and virtuosic flashy, it is just right the antidote for a gloomy November weekend.

Verdi’s Requiem will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

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