A superb performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s (1813-1901) Requiem Mass can be profoundly moving. Maestro Danny Stewart, the Santa Cruz Symphony coupled with the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, well prepared by Director Cheryl Anderson, provided just such an experience to close the 2016-17 season.
It was monumental and compelling throughout the 90 minute performance! The May concert coincides with the premiere performance composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, Italian poet whom Verdi admired. The first performance took place on May 22, 1874 in the San Marco Cathedral, Milan.
The four high caliber soloists selected by Maestro Stewart were also remarkable and worked well both individually and in ensemble. The soloists were Michelle Bradley, soprano; Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo soprano; Stuart A. Neill, tenor and Peixen Chen, bass.
Stewart maintained a close rapport with the soloists, orchestra and chorus throughout the concert. And again, the Maestro directed from memory without score. His eye contact and gestures including peripheral glances in cuing the off-set trumpets located to the right and left high above the audience, reflected his in-depth understanding of Verdi’s intention. Stewart drew attention to the entire orchestra at times as he looked up to the chorus located in the seats behind the orchestra and as they simultaneously shaped the choral passages from the opening “Requiem” through to the final closing, “Libera me” (Deliver me).
Stewart balanced with dynamic clarity the liturgical and operatic elements. Following the serenity of the opening moments, he laid bare Verdi’s central conflict between terror and consolation. This contrast began with the opening plea, Requiem aeternam dona eis (Grant them rest). The sotto voce (in a quiet voice) was almost whispered by the large choir, sang against a mournful descent by the strings. Stewart understood the dynamic contrast between the pleas of post-mortal redemption and Judgment Day.
The four soloists were excellent and demonstrated a wide variety of vocal styles with soprano Michelle Bradley’s clean projection in many passages, notably in beautiful lines of the Lacrimosa. Mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano demonstrated her magnificent artistry throughout. Tenor Stuart Neill in Ingemisco tamquam reus (I groan as a guilty one) and Hostias et preces tibi (We offer to You) and Bass Chen in Mors stupebit et natura (Death and Nature shall stand amazed) were superb.
Maestro Stewart was inspiring, lifting and compelling emotional depth into the Santa Cruz Symphony, Chorus and soloists. They rose to an artistic level high above their usual excellent playing. Particular mention given to Mary Hargrove, piccolo, Erin Irvine, bassoon in Quid sum section, Norman Peck, Bass drum and Kumiko Ito, timpanist, whose percussive punctuations were spot in Mors stupebit et natura, and offstage Fanfare trumpeters Graham Taylor, Rick Leder, Kenneth Olsen and Stephen Ruppenthal added depth and flare to the overall performance.
Maestro Stewart held the last moment of silence for some 12 seconds, during which not even a whisper could be heard creating a wonderful sense of artistic drama. The silence was deafening.
Bravo Maestro, orchestra, chorus and soloists for truly a monumental performance!