After Gioachino Rossini's death in 1868, Giuseppe Verdi suggested that a group of then-famous Italian composers collaborate on a requiem in Rossini's honor to be played on the first anniversary of his death. Verdi wrote the final Libera me and was frustrated when the work was not performed. Six years later, he put his composition to use in a Mass that honored another man whom he greatly admired, Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni. The first performance of the Manzoni Requiem took place at the church of St. Mark in Milan on May 22, 1874, the first anniversary of the writer’s death. The piece lends itself much more to the concert stage than to the church, however, and it is most often played in theaters and opera houses.
On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. They and the San Diego Master Chorale combined with the San Diego Opera chorus sang to the accompaniment of the San Diego Symphony conducted by Massimo Zanetti. The seats went on sale in the fall and by Christmas the house was completely sold out. However, on the day of the performance the mood was funereal.
Opening with muted cello sounds, the beginning of the Mass indicated the sorrowful mood of both musicians and audience. Maestro Zanetti had a tremendous range of dynamics and the following Dies Irae came in with thunderous drum beats. Blythe sang of judgment with a tapestry of tonal color and was joined by Beczala and Stoyanova in the description of the disparity between the power of God and the human condition. Beczala’s Ingemisco was a thing of great lyrical beauty that became one or the crown jewels of this performance. Furlanetto sang of the damned being consigned to the flames of Hell and Stoyanova sang the Libera Me with a radiance that transcended the darkness of the surrounding aura. Eventually, the chorus returned to the day of wrath and of tears, which this certainly was for its members. Perhaps it was their outrage at being dismissed with little regard for their devotion to the company that made the orchestra and chorus sing and play with every fibre of their bodies. Together with the internationally known soloists, they made this a Verdi Requiem never to be forgotten by anyone who was in the Civic Theater that night.
Soprano, Krassimira Stoyanova; Mezzo-soprano, Stephanie Blythe; Tenor, Piotr Beczala; Bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto; Conductor, Massimo Zanetti.