Who knows if it really makes a difference or not when Verdi’s Requiem is performed in the opera house but Antonio Pappano’s vivid performance for the Royal Opera certainly had the whiff of theatricality about it.
Churchy it was not – though you might imagine that the Royal Opera Chorus, well-drilled in matters of characterisation, had been advised that their murmured repetitions of the words “Requiem aeternam” at the outset must sound almost indivisible from the mournful cello descent, as if emanating from deep inside some dark Italian cathedral. The house-lights were only half-dimmed for the performance but that scarcely detracted from the potency of the atmosphere.
But why should any of this be surprising? Pappano lives in this theatre, it is that special place where operatic dramas come alive for him – and Verdi’s Requiem is nothing if operatic. As fiery-tongued trumpets rained down their forbidding fanfares from the second tier boxes heralding the Day of Wrath you half expected to see the chorus with arms outstretched imploring deliverance from the storm at the opening of Otello.
Associations die hard in this theatre. Indeed, Pappano’s soprano Micaela Carosi, a late replacement for Barbara Frittoli, seemed to imagine she was Tosca during the Libera Me, such were her diva-like gestures of heartache and supplication.
She was the only Italian among soloists exclusively from Eastern Europe and though the vocal personalities were big and distinctive and sometimes not such a perfect blend, Pappano had them all phrasing like Italians, lovingly shaping their lines into a meaningful cogency. He so understands singers, this man; he knows what they need and when they need it.
Though he couldn’t persuade his tenor Piotr Beczala to sing a honeyed mezza voce in the Offertorio’s “Hostias”. That began with an unfortunate bump because this lusty singer, thrilling in full voice, doesn’t appear to have a head-voice for those quiet and high-lying confidences.
The imperious Olga Borodina turned up for a change and impressed with that fabulous colour and a quietly chilling artistry with the words “Nil inultum remanebit” (“Nothing unavenged shall remain”). Best of all, though, was the sensational bass, Ildar Abdrazakov, who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse. I can’t remember when I last heard the role so magnificently sung.
And Carosi, a.k.a. Tosca? Well, I love the plangent colour and she has big temperamental notes which more than dominate the ensemble - but those seraphic refinements elude her and everything floated above the stave is hit and miss. Like the notorious high B-flat in the Libera Me – only just there and hardly beautiful. But no one could accuse her of short-changing us on feeling, or Pappano on drama: that pause before the return of the Dies Irae was positively nerve-wracking.Reuse content