Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 15, 2019

REVIEW: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Verdi Requiem

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 13, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

A balmy Saturday evening in the Berkshires, with gentle breezes and a nearly full moon, formed a natural cathedral for a moving performance of a choral masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest orchestras and choruses, their inspiring young music director, and four world-class soloists, each in peak vocal form.

Written to commemorate the first anniversary in 1874 of the death of Italian writer and patriot Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass unfolds over 85 minutes in seven movements, dominated by the second and longest, the “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath), but also containing many passages of hushed devotional beauty throughout.
Sung in Latin, the Requiem opens with a quiet “Introit and Kyrie,” then shifts dramatically into the harrowing first notes of the “Dies Irae,” itself consisting of nine short sections. Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green brought stentorian gravitas to the “Mors Stupebit” (Death Shall Be Stunned) passage of the “Tuba Mirum” (Wondrous Trumpet) section. Kristine Opolais’s ethereal soprano intertwined rapturously with Oksana Volkova’s earthy mezzo-soprano in the “Recordare” (Remember) section, and later in the “Agnus Dei” movement. Tenor Jonathan Tetelman sang the “Ingemisco” (I Sob) section with poignant fervency.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, prepared by their conductor, James Burton, sang in every  movement but the “Offertory” and “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light). The seventh and shortest movement, “Sanctus” (Holy), is a three-minute outburst of joy sung by only the chorus, with exuberant force and precision. Their careful gradations of tone and clear articulation, from the softest to the loudest portions, were consistently impressive. 

Andris Nelsons
Verdi’s Requiem has both been praised as his “greatest opera” and criticized for being “too operatic;” this performance would not have been as effective without the committed leadership of Maestro Nelsons, who found an ideal balance between those two perspectives on the piece. Few conductors can better organize this large an ensemble so that every note is audible even in this vast sonic environment.

Now in his fifth Tanglewood season as BSO Music Director, Andris Nelsons is directing more concerts this summer than ever before. The dividends of the close bonds he has developed with orchestra and audience members alike were in thrilling evidence tonight.