Vivid Drama: the Verdi Requiem at the Auditorium di Milano

Verdi – Requiem

Soprano – Carmela Remigio
Mezzo-Soprano – Anna Bonitatibus
Tenor – Valentino Buzza
Bass – Fabrizio Beggi

Coro Sinfonico di Milano, Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano / Claus Peter Flor.
Concert performance.

Auditorium di Milano Fondazione Cariplo, Milan, Italy.  Sunday, October 30th, 2022.

Today marked my first visit to the Auditorium di Milano, and indeed my first opportunity to hear the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano and its chorus.  The organization used to be called La Verdi, but has now shortened its name to reflect its home in the Lombard capital.  The Auditorium is a handsome venue.  Formerly a movie theatre, the seats are extremely comfortable and the hall sounds quite wonderful – the generous climaxes had lots of space to bloom within the acoustic.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

These performances of the Verdi Requiem at home precede a tour that these performers will take on the road to Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona and Alacant over the course of the next two weeks.  Based on today’s performance, the audience in those cities are in for something very special indeed.  Under their former Music Director, Claus Peter Flor, combined with an all-Italian quartet of soloists, the gathered forces gave a revelatory performance that made this oft-heard work sound fresh and new.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

It started in a somewhat underpowered way.  The opening ‘Requiem aeternam’ seemingly rambled into life.  Yet with the ‘Kyire’ and the entry of the soloists something happened.  The performance took wing and didn’t let go for the next ninety minutes.  Flor clearly sees this as a work of two parts – he linked the ‘Requiem’ and ‘Kyrie’ into the ‘Dies irae’ without a break, as he did similarly with the ‘Offertorio’ onwards.  This filled the work with a sense of inevitable drama that made it sound even more operatic than we often hear, particularly as he had a quartet of soloists willing to use the text to inject so much dramatic tension into all that they did.  Flor’s tempi were generally swift.  Indeed, he had clearly rehearsed the forces so fully, and the unanimity of approach across the entirety of all involved was so striking, that in even some of the most intricate writing, he barely needed to direct them.  The orchestra rewarded Flor with playing of easy virtuosity, the rapid string figures in the ‘Dies irae’ dispatched with impeccable accuracy, the brass playing with solid tone and not a split note all night.  The bass drum player really wasn’t afraid to go for it, striking fear into all of us with some terrifying whacks.  There were moments of repose, also.  The flutes played their contributions to the ‘Agnus dei’ with lyrical poise, while the cellos were immaculately tuned in that treacherous opening to the ‘Offertorio’.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

The chorus, prepared by Massimo Fiocchi Malaspina, made a tremendous noise in the ‘Tuba mirum’, joined by the off-stage brass ringing across the hall.  They intoned the ‘Rex tremendae’ with declamatory resonance, and tuning in the unaccompanied section of the ‘Libera me’ was spot on.  The sopranos were somewhat brittle in tone, but the mezzos were nicely fruity, the tenors shone brightly out of the texture, and the basses anchored the choral sound with solid warmth.  The discipline with which they sang was admirable – particularly as they negotiated the tricky contrapuntal writing of the ‘Sanctus’.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

Carmela Remigio sang her ‘Libera me’ with desperate generosity.  Hers was a performance that powered through, urgently searching for meaning.  Her closing entreaties of ‘Libera me’ were declaimed with fearful force.  She soared above the forces in the fugue, giving us a huge high C.  Sadly, her high B-flat at the end of the a cappella section was a bit south of the note and not quite piano, let alone pppp.  Elsewhere, she capped the textures with her chalky soprano, but there were places where she tended to skirt around the note, not always hitting it head on.  Her phrasing was also rather short.  That said, I did admire the sheer dramatic sensibility she brought to the part.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

Anna Bonitatibus brought her customary musical intelligence to the mezzo part.  Hers isn’t an industrial-strength Cossotto impersonation, but rather stayed true to her instrument and offered us something more lyrical and thoughtful.  She filled her ‘Liber scriptus’ with meaning, illustrating the text with hushed fear, yet also bringing out the horror in how she opened up the voice thrillingly on the high A-flat on ‘judicetur’, filling us with foreboding.  She opened the ‘Lacrymosa’ with lyrical beauty, caressing the tone yet finding sadness within.  In the ‘Lux aeterna’ she showed us what lies beyond, using a wide palette of tone colours to fill her line with light.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

Valentino Buzza was a reliable tenor soloist.  He sang his music with generous force and a decent line.  His ‘Ingemisco’ was sung with honeyed lyricism and he shaded the tone agreeably in his ‘Hostias’.  At times, such as in his contribution to the ‘Kyrie’, I found some of his phrasing to be a bit short, but otherwise his was a creditable assumption of the part.

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

Fabrizio Beggi was a tower of strength in the bass part.  He sang the ‘Mors stupebit’ as if threatening vengeance, with an extrovert determination.  In the ‘Confutatis’ he found a consoling and human tone to ‘oro supplex et acclinis’, pulling the listener in, in a way I’d never heard before.  There was a tendency for Beggi to lose the compass of the note in some of the unaccompanied sections, but Beggi’s was also a reading that was deeply intelligent. 

Photo: © Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano

This was a Verdi Requiem that will remain in the memory of those who were present for a very long time.  There was something very special in hearing Italian forces take on this work with such dedication.  The choral singing and orchestral playing were thrilling, while Flor’s direction filled the work with vivid drama.  There was also a terrific quartet of soloists – Remigio sang with uninhibited passion, Bonitatibus with revelatory intelligence, Buzza with stability, and Beggi with deep insight.  Those able to see this cast and these forces on the upcoming tour will not want to miss it. 

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