Classical: Too much humility, not enough greasepaint




THE "OPERA in ecclesiastical garb" - as Verdi's Requiem was once dubbed - is easily defrocked. Demonstrative conductors, huge amateur choirs, and starry, ill-matched soloists can make for the wrong kind of theatricality. We've seen them: sopranos and mezzos who think they are Aida and Amneris locked once more in heated on-stage rivalry; the tenor who thinks he's on for a solo recital, the grand inquisitorial basses, the conductor for whom every day of wrath is a personal day of reckoning.

Bernard Haitink was never likely to stray far from the whiff of incense. But whether or not he might have benefited from a lick or two more of the greasepaint was a question that hung in the balance throughout his Royal Festival Hall performance on Sunday night.

The darkened church, the murmuring voices of souls at prayer, are all but written into the opening of Verdi's Introit and Kyrie. A brightened hall, a coughing audience don't help, of course, but those muted strings and muffled voices came too readily into focus here. True, there was an immediacy, a tensile quality to the choral entries.

The Royal Opera Chorus may have been smaller than we are accustomed to, but they projected an identity in their singing that is so often missing from the safety in numbers of larger and invariably more anonymous groups.

The solo quartet, too, were a well-balanced, well-integrated foursome. Individually, there were shortcomings - aren't there always? No other major choral work puts its solo voices to the test quite like this one. We effectively "audition" them as one by one, they plead special circumstances in the Kyrie. First impressions count for a great deal here, though it wasn't until later in the proceedings - the "Hostias" of the Offertorio - that it became clear why the perfectly decent tenor, Franco Farina, wasn't making more of an impression. The timbre was Italianate enough (Farina is Italian-American) but the style wasn't. A little good, old- fashioned portamento would have gone a long way towards personalising, endearing his solos to us.

His male partner, the bass Roberto Scandiuzzi, made a genuine attempt to sing with lyric attitude, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. And Petra Lang, the strikingly fine German mezzo, a voice and technique without flaws (from its liberating top to the enriched contralto colour of the lower register), might have breathed a little more theatricality into the words, but was otherwise exemplary. How beautifully her octaves paralleled with those of the soprano, Paula Delligatti, in the unisons of the Agnus Dei - the magical evolution of plainchant into the realms of opera.

Delligatti, a new name to me, had her moments - the Verdi style was alive and well in many a graciously sculpted airborne phrase - but also her disasters, as in the a cappella heart of the Libera me, which sagged into ruinously flat intonation.

Heaven forfend that humility should bring even a Verdi soprano so low. But humility appeared to have inhibited Haitink, too. In the final reckoning, his performance lacked atmosphere and drama, a sense of occasion. Maybe he and the company have been away from the theatre too long.

There is a further performance of Verdi's Requiem tonight. Booking: 0171-960 4242

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before