Verdi’s Requiem

(Opera Queensland)


The combined forces of Opera Queensland, the Queensland Orchestra and the Queensland Choir mounted a stunning performance of Verdi’s passionate Requiem in the City Hall at the weekend. Soloists, choir and orchestra shared equally in a memorable and emotional performance under the baton of charismatic conductor Peter McCoppin.

With the performance framed by the Iraq war and the street-sitting protestors who had brought traffic to a crawl in outside Ann Street, McCoppin in a few well-chosen opening words offered the work “for freedom, for peace inclusively for all people throughout the world”.

The work provides a rich choral sound, giving the strong OQ chorus the rare chance to sing out without the burden of funny costumes and often funnier directorial fantasies. Augmented by members of the Queensland Choir (the former loved but awfully named “State and Municipal”), they gave a wonderful account of themselves no small accomplishment when going head to head with a 70-piece orchestra that was in no mood to be a muted background. Indeed the magnificent and thrice repeated “Dies irae” (“day of wrath”) generated a tidal wave of sound that swept through the cavernous City Hall submerging everyone in a flood of powerfully brilliant music.

The four soloists, copping the full blast of the wave, withstood it stoically, but the flood seemingly washed three trumpeters upward into the gallery, where they echoed their on-stage colleagues in the subsequent “Tubum mirum”.

Soloists Rosamund Illing (soprano), Sue Braatvedt (mezzo), Ding Yi (tenor) and Jonathan Truscott (bass) handled their difficult passages with sensitivity and power, again, showing their true grit (unmiked of course) in opposition to the barely restrained orchestra. (My wife and I had strolled to City Hall along Ann Street, passing a mega-amplified vocalist and rock band torturing the eardrums of their alfresco audience. What a pity those kids missed the chance to hear some real singers at work.)

In addition to his rich choral music, Verdi offers deft pairings of the singers for example, duets from the two women, or from the tenor and mezzo as well as trios and quartets. So un-church like, and so different from the ecclesiastical music of Bach and Mozart, it resonates with operatic themes and approaches, reminding us that Verdi also introduced church music to his opera, as in the magnificent “Miserere” in Il trovatore. As the Requiem‘s soloists sang the solemn text, they evoked the ghosts of Leonara and Manrico, as well as Azucena and the Duke.

In all, it was a magnificent production. McCoppin conducted it peerlessly and scorelessly communicating his affection for the work and the performers.

And a bonus after years of oratorio attendance, I expected to be squinting at the program in the gloom to work out what was going on but those nice Opera Queensland people had arranged surtitles with an English translation of the difficult Latin.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Thu 27th March 2003)