Some of the coaching and techniques that Maestro Gatti suggested were new to me. Here are the ones that stood out:
- “Sing for yourself.” That was his direction to achieve the dynamics for some of the triple-p and quadruple-p passages. I’ve often heard to sing to the back wall of the hall for loud passages, but this was great for singing softly.
- “Dües Ürae.” To achieve the darker color he wanted, Gatti told us to sing the /i/ in some of our quieter Dies Irae interjections as a /ü/ .It sure surprised me how well this worked. After all, a darker color is often achieved by moving your lips forward, and to make an /ü/ you basically make an /i/ with your lips pursed like an /o/. He also had the sopranos modify the /i/ vowel to an /a/ for their descending chromatic passage, because otherwise, “it sounds like a mosquito.”
- “Saleva me.” How many syllables in “Salva” ? Apparently the answer is three. Gatti wants the /l/ in salva so prominent that we’re actually putting a shadow vowel in after it to promote it. This is quite noticeable on the cascading salva me across the chorus toward the end of the second movement. Gatti got a laugh telling us to sound like Pavarotti and then imitating him, but I must say, it totally makes you sound like you’re a native Italian with that vowel in there.
- Quantus tremor. The Quantus tremor passage in the piece occurs right before the antiphonal trumpets and the rest of the brass come crashing in for the climactic Tuba mirum. In past performances, the chorus I’ve been in has been told to sing it sotto voce, with almost no tone at all, giving it this creepy foreboding sense of wonder and doom. Great. Well, Gatti did something amazing with it. He has the basses quiet but with normal intonation… the tenors with half-intonation… and the altos and sopranos just whisper the words with no intonation. Then as the passage progresses the tenors bring in more intonation and the ladies step up to half-intonation. The result is a bottom-heavy, darker, more dramatic effect that had us all looking at each other and nodding our heads to acknowledge how well that worked.
- Respect the Sanctus. The Sanctus fourth movement is an oddity in the piece. Double chorus, cascading fugue-like entrances, trumpets blaring a triumphant C, dancing strings, bouncy passages–it’s all very unlike the somber character of the rest of the piece. I’ve always just sung it as a hectic madcap race to the ending with some beautiful transitional passages in the middle. Usually the problem is just being heard above the orchestra. Well, Maestro Gatti’s spin on that passage is to “sing it with respect.” I like it — it keeps your enthusiasm in check so you don’t feel like a kid running around in church during a funeral. I think communicating that respect will come through to the audience. (We’ll see, once we add the orchestra and the battle for audibility begins.)
- Reining in the sopranos. At the quiet point of the Sanctus, the first chorus holds beautiful sustained chords while the second chorus interjects with prolonged Hosannas. The sopranos tend to dominate this chord simply because of the range of their notes. He hammered them a few time to sneak up on the note and barely articulate it so that their notes wouldn’t dominate the rest of the parts by virtue of their position in their passaggio.
- No misterioso. We started singing through the piece with that first hushed re-qui-em, and Gatti came back to that immediately after our first minute of sing through. At the time, I thought we had just the right air of mystery and wonder that I’ve put into those notes in the past. No, no misterioso, he said. He wants these parts to be very reflective, very internalized, full of sorrowness and sighing. He told us to get rid of the big rolled R that would normally go there, calling it out of style.
- Sits and stands. Maestro Gatti destroyed our sit and stand schedule, which called for us staying up for most of the first two movements, sitting only for the third and sixth movements which are all solo. No, he wants the more dramatic visual of us leaping up one beat before our big Dies irae reprises and the Rex tremendae majestatis entrance. We practiced it a few times. It’s not very natural or conductive for singing dolcissimo, but fortunately none of those passages call for that — they’re all harsh, coarse entrances that favor power over finesse.
Whether you’re coming to hear us this week, or a connoisseur of Verdi, or performing it yourself in the future, you’ll probably appreciate these touches and how they can shape the chorus for this piece.