Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
The Friday, October 19th performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin and featuring the Westminster Symphonic Choir, was bursting with energy and pathos, and for the most part very good. The choir had an unusually unified, mellifluous sound. They tended to sound ethereal and almost too full of “head voice” among the women, but they managed to hold their own with the trenchant “Dies Irae” section. In the double chorus sections of the performance, such as the “Sanctus,” the women seemed to distinctly outnumber the men, which seemed unwise. Although the choir could have been stronger, perhaps Seguin was consciously employing their voices as a light, lyrical counterpoint to the more operatic emphasis of the soloists.
Of the four soloists, I felt that the bass Petrenko was most outstanding, with a powerful yet velvety voice. Mezzo soprano Christine Rice had a lovely, magnificent voice and emoted beautifully. Poplavskakya’s voice was excellent also, as she sang the higher notes with a resounding clarity, while having a very well supported lower register, and a majestic tone throughout. Though all of the soloists were good individually, I felt there was an inauspicious blend between the timbre or vocal color of the soloists, particularly between the timbres of the soprano and the mezzo in their “Recordare” duet, in which their voices seemed to be working against one another as opposed to complementing and blending. As operatic tenors go, Rolando Villazon has a rather small voice, and seemed to have the smallest voice of all four soloists, and I felt there was a brittle, almost unsupported sound to many of his high notes, which actually made me wince several times. (Perhaps I am unfairly comparing him here to the likes of the great tenor Jussi Bjorling, who had an incomparably silken vocal tone as well as a “big,” fabulously supported voice.)
In addition, however, many of Villazon’s Latin pronunciations sounded incorrect, particularly when he pronounced words ending in “i” or is,” when he sounded as if he were phonating a Latin “ae” instead. His pronunciations were very distracting to me, as someone who has performed Latin sacred pieces myself, and I feel Seguin should have reinforced standardized, correct ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation to create a more uniform and accurate sound in a sacred piece. The other three soloists’ Latin did sound accurate, as did the Westminster Chorus’ Latin. I hope Seguin didn’t incorrectly assume, “Who on Earth in the audience will know how church Latin is supposed to be pronounced anyhow?” The annoying disparity reminded me of hearing performances of “The Magic Flute” in which some singers use correct “hoch Deutsche” pronunciation, while others use regional German pronunciation.
The “Lux Aeterna” section VI, was my personal favorite of Verdi’s Requiem, as it was sublimely tranquil, elegant and ethereal. Although in the program, Verdi is quoted as stating, “One mustn’t sing this Mass as one sings an opera,” it does seem apparent that Seguin was opting for as operatic a quality as possible for this performance. As good as it was, I would have enjoyed this performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” a bit more if it had been a tad less operatic and had more of a unified, ensemble quality.