The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of Feb. 19, 2006.
Despite its name the Requiem of Giuseppe Verdi is inherently and expressively a dramatic work.
Regardless of his status as an Italian national icon, Verdi wasn't a religious man. He was fundamentally a man of the theater and knew well how to manipulate an audience in the opera house. Those skills carried over to this work for the concert hall.
This weekend the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra mounted a powerful and beautifully wrought performance of this work, employing full chorus and an outstanding cast of soloists. Music director Guillermo Figueroa, who often seems to prefer brisk tempos, was in no hurry, and in a sculpted reading allowed each facet of the story its full measure.
The work began serenely, even angelically, with chorus and orchestra in silvery pianissimo, building gradually and methodically to the stentorian outcry of Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) by tenor Stephen Mark Brown.
The mixture of thrill and terror of the Dies Irae (Day of wrath) thundered forth, filling the auditorium with orchestra and 80-voice chorus. From the podium Figueroa, like Thor, hurled lightning bolts in the form of brass and drums.
In the Tuba mirum (Wondrous sound of the trumpet), trumpets placed in the balcony answered those on stage to create an authentic “surround-sound” putting the audience smack dab in the middle of a sea of sonority.
Following yet another vehement climax, bass-baritone Zheng Zhou held us spellbound, changing the mood with the quiet intensity of Mors stupebit et natura (Death is struck and nature quaking). Zhou's silky-smooth voice, so memorable here last season in Boito's Mefistofele, was again dramatically impressive and a joy to hear.
Recordare, Jesu pie (Think, kind Jesu) brought the two female soloists into duet, with Figueroa giving them room to explore the melodic line.
Often given out of context in tenor recitals, Ingemisco (Guilty now), an offering of sincere emotion from Brown, was followed by Zhou's vivid reading of the Confutatis (When the wicked are confounded).
Puerto Rican Yalí-Marie Williams sounds for all the world like a true Verdi soprano with ringing top notes. One could easily hear her as, say, Leonora in Il Trovatore. Her signal outbursts in the final Libera me (Deliver me), especially, capped a shining performance all round.
Mezzo-soprano Judith Engel was at her strongest in the Lux aeterna (Eternal light), leading the ensemble with effective introductions.
Operatic voices, even the greatest, don't necessarily blend together.
But this group achieved a pleasing ensemble even when unaccompanied. The full chorus, prepared by Roger Melone, impressively traversed the limits of dynamics.
Verdi, always one to know a good thing when he found it, couldn't resist bringing back the mighty theme of the Dies irae in the final movement, followed by a reprise of the serene opening music, at length bringing to a close this colorfully descriptive musical tour of the spiritual underworld.