Muti, CSO turn tragedy into spiritual transcendence with Verdi “Requiem”

Fri Nov 09, 2018 at 1:20 pm

By Hannah Edgar

Riccardo Muti conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, CSO Chorus and soloists in Verdi’s “Requiem” Thursday night. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

If this week’s tragic news from California of yet another mass shooting was compartmentalized by any audience member Thursday evening, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem Mass surely rattled awake the desensitized.

Addressing the audience before the performance, Riccardo Muti dedicated the concert to the memory of the twelve young people slain in Thousand Oaks. With his voice audibly breaking, he described how difficult the previous night’s events had been to him “as a father and grandfather.”

“They say the Brahms Requiem is to console those grieving. The Verdi Requiem asks for peace,” he said.

Muti asked the audience to stand for a moment of silence. Then he led the CSO and CSO Chorus in what may have been their most impassioned Verdi Requiem performance to date.

That’s not an assertion to be made lightly. Muti has twice previously conducted the work with the same ensembles: his 2009 subscription concert as music director designate (which subsequent recording won a Grammy), and the live-streamed 2013 concert celebrating Verdi’s bicentennial.

It’s almost redundant to describe Verdi’s Requiem as operatic but this week’s quartet of soloists brought a whole new meaning to the term, with interpretations so thoughtfully etched they may as well have been character roles.

From his first entrance ushering in the Kyrie, tenor Piotr Beczała set the tone for a vital, magnetic performance, his voice appealingly clarion. Bass Dmitry Belosselskiy was grippingly authoritative, with a hall-filling voice and beautiful diction.

Soprano Vittoria Yeo, a Muti protégé who makes an auspicious CSO debut with these performances, didn’t show the vocal heft of her compatriots, but displayed stamina and subtle, persuasive intensity. The only returnee from previous subscription performances was mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona, who was every bit as dramatically and vocally captivating as she was five years ago.

For most of the evening, the CSO’s music director defaulted to his typically laser-focused approach. But there was a red-hot emotional impetus behind each gesture. Even tiny gestures and pinpoint ictuses—anathema to choral singers everywhere—garnered unified, assured consonances from a luminous, shapeshifting CSO Chorus.

The orchestra redoubled its commitment to this familiar work, with some visitors added to the roster—guest principal trumpet Esteban Batallán (Granada City Orchestra), guest principal viola Eric Nowlin (Detroit Symphony), and, in the terrace, trumpeter Mark Hughes (Houston Symphony). Cynthia Yeh’s piercing bass drum hits in the wrathful Dies irae theme, which recurs throughout the piece, have never sounded more chilling. Muti opted for more sober restraint in the Sanctus, holding back the tempo somewhat, but expressive woodwinds brightened it and the Lux aeterna, like a break in the clouds.

After commanding solos by Barcellona, Beczała, and Belosselskiy in the sprawling Dies irae, Yeo stepped into the spotlight in the Libera me, taking full ownership of the tessitura-spanning soprano solo. Like Barcellona’s bereft Lacrymosa solo earlier in the evening, her first recitative line quivered, as though racked with sobs. In its return at the Requiem’s hushed, elementally brightening end, Yeo’s delivery was firmer and solemn. (“Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda”—deliver me, O Lord, from everlasting death on that day of terror.)

The sterling musicianship from all involved made this Verdi Requiem memorable. But its timely reminder that concert halls are not vacuums—and its promise of redemption in a sometimes hellish world—made it unforgettable.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.; 312-294-3000.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Muti, CSO turn tragedy into spiritual transcendence with Verdi “Requiem””

  1. Posted Nov 09, 2018 at 11:50 pm by James Heckman


Leave a Comment