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Verdi Requiem at the Kennedy Center

Giuseppe VerdiGiuseppe Verdi's Requiem Mass is a favorite piece of mine, and I leapt at the chance to hear it performed yesterday at the Kennedy Center. The concert featured The Washington Chorus and Orchestra and the Shenandoah Conservatory Choir, under the direction of Robert Shafer. The vocal soloists were Alessandra Marc (soprano), Elizabeth Bishop (mezzo soprano), and Eric Owens (bass). Tenor Steven Tharp stepped in at the last minute to replace the fourth soloist, absent due to an illness. The piece was originally performed at the funeral ceremony for Verdi's hero Alessandro Manzoni in 1873, in Milan Cathedral, but it was also performed shortly afterward in the theater of La Scala and it really belongs in the concert hall rather than a liturgical setting. (Any Mass that takes about half of the total time just for its sequence is liturgically out of proportion.)

The performances were all fine, with some intonation problems among the winds in the Confutatis movement and between the strings and the soprano soloist in the Recordare and Offertorio movements. The amassed chorus was immense in size, spilling over from its stands into the box seats above the stage in the Concert Hall. This kind of large choral work is the bread and butter of the Washington Chorus, a volunteer organization with a big reputation that is well deserved. Their performance was accurate and moving, with a well-considered range of volume and texture. (While I appreciate what this group is able to accomplish, I am philosophically opposed to the idea of volunteer choruses, only because they perpetuate the institutional bias against professional choral singers. If we can even find a paying job, it is almost always for significantly less pay than an instrumental musician can expect at the same level.) Their orchestra (which, I suspect, is a paid group) was also up to the task, with only a moment of intonation trouble in the introduction by the celli in the Offertorio. Verdi's piccolo part in the piece is quite dramatic, shrieking rabidly in the evocation of the Apocalypse in the opening of the Dies Irae (with echoes, at moments, of the music for the witches in his opera Macbeth) and bursting like the eternal fire in the Confutatis. I am sorry that the piccolo player is not listed in the program, because I would like to congratulate her here for a job well done.

The problem with going to the Kennedy Center is that it is so expensive, which is ultimately why I go so infrequently. My ticket for the Verdi Requiem cost $45, which was a gift from a friend. Parking at the garage now costs $15. This is to hear a large group of musicians that receives no pay, remember, which seems out of proportion.

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