Verdi’s towering Requiem Mass was written to mark the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) who was one of Verdi’s two cultural heroes of 19th century Italian art; the other was Rossini. First performed in the church of San Marco, it was repeated a few days later at La Scala. Verdi being the most practical of great composers, then took it on tour and made a lot of money from it.

The 90+ minute mass, while liturgically correct, is too long to be part of almost any Catholic religious service, so it lives on in the concert hall and opera house where Verdi always always intended to be done. It is best thought of as a sacred opera. It is a mass not for the dead, but for the living. As is true for the rest of Verdi’s work, it is Shakespearean in its dimensions and awareness of humanities hopes and deepest fears.

I’ve heard more live performances of the mass than I can recall. The first was at the old Met. It was Easter Sunday 1959 – March 29. Bruno Walter conducted the “Convent Scene” followed by the Verdi Requiem. The “Convent Scene” is really set in a monastery, but that’s how the Met describes it. Zinka Milanov was in both halves of the bill. She turned out to be in less than ideal voice and did an operatic swoon after the ‘Dies Irae’. She was replaced by Heidi Krall. This performance turned out to be Maestro Walter’s last at the Met. Zinka’s dive has erased all other memories of that day.

This performance of the Verdi’s mass is included as part Parma’s Tutto Verdi series. It is the last disc of the collection, but I am reviewing it here in its chronological order. There’s little to recommend this performance as there are many readings far superior to this tepid one. The Russian maestro, Yuri Temirkanov, has little feel for Verdi’s blazing and beautiful score.

The soloists on this recording are mostly very accomplished. Soprano Dimitra Theodossiou wobbles her way through much of the performance, but the other three are fine. Mezzo Sonia Ganassi has a well controlled voice that fully realized Verdi’s powerful writing. Tenor Francesco Merli, perhaps the best known of the quartet, has a slender voice that was most appealing during the soft music of his part. Bass Riccardo Zanellato has an attractive lyric bass.

The orchestra and chorus of Parma’s opera house do as well as can be expected under Temirkanov lethargic leadership. There’s not much more to say about a performance that’s swamped by so many other outstanding interpretations of Verdi’s masterpiece.

One of my favorite recordings of the work is that done by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Georg Solti’s direction. Leontyne Price, Janet Baker, Veriano Luchetti, and Jose Van Dam are the soloists. Solti had led the orchestra and soloists in several live performances of the work just prior to recording the mass. I attended one of these. It was one of the most memorable I’ve ever been at. Solti had done the mass the season before with Pavarotti as the tenor soloist, but wasn’t satisfied with it and brought the work back with Luchetti in place of Pavarotti. I was at one of these performances also. It didn’t work as well as it did the second time around. I don’t think it was Pavarotti or the lack thereof that made the difference. It just didn’t click one year and did the next.

The only reason to buy the Parma disc that I can think of, other than as part of the whole series, is the documentary ‘Verdi’s Backyard’ which is included as a filler. Director Sergey Grguric’s depiction of Verdi country and its colorful denizens is a delight. Highly recommended. I’d buy it and skip the mass.

Messa da Requiem – Giuseppe Verdi

Dimitra Theodossiou, soprano
Sonia Ganassi, mezzo-soprano
Francesco Meli, tenor
Riccardo Zanellato, bass

Parma Teatro Regio Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Martino Faggiani)
Yuri Temirkanov, conductor

Recorded live from the Teatro Farnese di Parma, 8 October 2011

– Verdi’s Backyard – A documentary by Sergej Grguric

Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: PCM 2.0 / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese (concert) / English, Italian (documentary)
Running time: 95 mins (concert) + 52 mins (documentary)
No. of Discs: 1