Last night’s Verdi was every bit as exciting as I expected it to be. While I’ll certainly file it in my memory as another successful performance, I must admit that it won’t be one of my favorites because it included some of the pitfalls I was concerned about going into the performance.
Maestro Montanero was true to his style, with dramatic, forceful, energetic conducting from the podium. He urged us to infuse the passion and emotion of this Requiem’s story into a heartfelt rendition of the piece. Both Old Testament God and the supplications and pleadings of those facing Judgment Day came through loud and clear… and yes, quickly, too! We executed on the vision and put together a memorable performance for the audience. In fact, it’s going to be hard to listen to any Verdi Requiem performance, now, without comparing it to this one’s range of tempo and dynamics, its accelerando and rubato, and the singular approach which Montanero used.
I suspect, however, that when the critics turn to their inevitable sniping at the performance’s merits, they will find some of the same things that I found lacking, things which prevented this performance from achieving true greatness. The main problem? Its sloppiness. Mind you, we’re talking the sloppiness of a Lenox restaurant’s dinner guest leaving bread crumbs and a minor coffee spill on the tablecloth, not a toddler smearing mushed carrots all over his high chair. I’m being incredibly picky. But for a group that generally craves precision, we had minor errors all over the place. Cutoffs that we approximated. Swells and fades that we invented because we weren’t actually sure what Maestro wanted. A default mezzo forte dynamic for some entrances. And tempo curves in the road that we could only gamely follow and hope for the best. In general, the crispness that I know I desire wasn’t there. I don’t think the performance itself suffered too greatly from it. Personally, it vaguely diminished my enjoyment in creating the music, and the distractions made it harder for me to concentrate on producing an efficient, glorious sound.
The quartet of soloists were one of the better groups I have ever heard perform the Verdi Requiem. However, they had some of the same troubles that the chorus faced. Montanero often had to get in their faces to buckle them in for his rubato and other tempo shifts. Our poor soprano came in a measure early on the tremens factus sum ego portion of the Libera me, and later on was a measure late in her return entrance. Fortunately in both cases she adjusted by changing note values to realign with the orchestra–a mark of an experienced professional for sure. The quartets seemed relatively well-balanced (with only the mezzo having trouble keeping up with the others’ volume and tone quality), but there were moments where they were just not in lockstep with the orchestra.
I can’t help but lay the blame for those near train wrecks on the baton of Maestro Montanero, because of his fast tempo and occasional lack of clarity in communicating that tempo to chorus, soloists, and orchestra. Some in the chorus argued that he was quite clear. I would say yes — he was as clear as your spouse telling you, “Okay… ummmm…. TURN HERE! You missed it.” Too many directions were better interpreted after it was too late to do something about them. Again, did it hurt the performance? Only to the most ardent Verdi fans who know the score well enough to pick up those kinds of slips. The rest of the audience must surely have enjoyed the excitement and energy of the breakneck pace, a pace which did a great job communicating the this-is-our-last-chance begging of the judged. A slavish attention to detail would have robbed this interpretation of its soul. We would never have delivered the emotional payload, and this wouldn’t have been such an awesome — in the true sense of the word — performance.