I’m often amazed at how there’s always something more to get out of a piece, even one that I’m already intimately familiar with like the Verdi Requiem.
First, let’s take the two rehearsals with John Oliver. In my last post, I talked about how we had focused on the technical aspects of singing the piece under Bill Cutter’s tutelage. The difference when John stepped up to the podium and began conducting was palpable. It was immediately clear that we all were doing some lazy singing–or at least lazy interpreting–because John was immediately asking for things just by the way he conducted, and we were able to deliver them. Even then, though John’s rehearsals were focused on tactical concerns… but it was tactical approaches to getting the emotion into the piece. Pause here and here… put a break before this subito piano so that the audience can hear the dynamic jump and the forte passage preceding it doesn’t run over the change. There’s usually a stentando here, but watch the conductor to find out how he observes it. That sort of thing.
But when Maestro Gatti took the podium last night, we went a level even deeper, focused a lot on color. Color is a strange musical term; defined only as the quality of the tone, but it’s so weird to use a visual concept for an audio one–and talking about a “darker” color doesn’t help! But Gatti made us start several passages over and over again until we got the color just the way he wanted it. As one bass commented to me on the way back to the rehearsal room, “It’s clear he hears the piece a certain way in his head, and he won’t stop until we match that.”
By the end of Maestro Gatti’s piano rehearsal on Monday night, we had a very specific version of the Verdi Requiem in our heads. One that is not misterioso (which is how I’m used to singing the Verdi), but instead full of a lingering regret and sorrow. I think he used the word culpa — as in “sorry” — to describe how we should be singing from the very opening notes. [Edit: it was, in fact, cupo — meaning dark, somber.] He modified vowels to achieve a certain darkness, often chiding us for very open /i/ and /e/ sounds which came across as too happy or too childlike. He migrated the triumphant sounding Sanctus movement away from its celebratory nature into one of respect. He asked for sharp differences in legato and staccato notes to get combinations of contrasting textures. At one point he reined in the sopranos because their excellently sung high notes were piercing through the rest of the chorus–I didn’t truly notice it until he fixed it. He was very clear and insightful in his tempi choices. He would make the text mean something, asking for the repeated request dona (“give [them]”) to be more prayerful and pleading, for instance. And he did a few really interesting modifications to how we sang as an ensemble to get some magical effects, which I’ll detail in my next post for people familiar with the piece.
We had heard that Gatti had a reputation for demanding precision. While we saw some of that last night, it wasn’t so much a demand but a promise. Each one of the Verdi performances I’ve been involved in with other choruses has had a distinct flavor. I’m very much looking forward to this one!