Marek Janowski conducts Verdi’s Requiem
14 Jan 2017
Messa da Requiem (87 min.)
María José Siri Soprano, Daniela Barcellona Mezzo-Soprano, Roberto Aronica Tenor, Riccardo Zanellato Bass, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Gijs Leenaars Chorus Master
Marek Janowski in conversation with Christian Stadelmann (15 min.)
Standing in for an indisposed Riccardo Chailly who was originally to conduct these concerts, Marek Janowski returns after an absence of more than 20 years to the conductor’s desk of the Berliner Philharmoniker – with Giuseppe Verdi’s both monumental and emotional Messa da Requiem, a work he has already performed at the Philharmonie with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in 2015. The performance by Janowski, then still head of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, was – according to the Tagesspiegel – far from a sentimental tearjerker.
The initial impetus behind Verdi’s famous Requiem was a pasticcio commemorating the death of Gioacchino Rossini: the idea was that the most prestigious Italian composers would jointly compose a requiem without any fees. The project, in which Verdi participated with the Libera me, failed. When the writer Alessandro Manzoni died on 22 May 1873, he decided to honour the most important figure of Italian literary Romanticism by setting the entire mass to music, making use of the movement already composed. It is perhaps hardly surprising for an opera composer like Verdi that the Dies irae is accorded the greatest significance in this requiem: no other line of text is brought to mind so often, with such emphasis and in so many musical hues, as in this apocalyptic vision, whose scenery takes on almost expressionist traits – of the Earth shaking, of the trembling of all mortals, and of the final judgement reinforced by trombones.
The operatic field is truly reached at the latest in the Lacrimosa, because the piece is based on a discarded duet from Don Carlo (the thunderstorm scene from Rigoletto is heard before that). As in his stage works, Verdi also developed in his Requiem a compelling tonal language rich in gesture that does not aspire to transcendence. For that reason, the Italian music critic and journalist Massimo Mila called the piece a “Requiem ante mortem”: its music does not seek any reconciliation with death or intend to offer solace, but instead calls for a more conscious life in the here and now.
In the Grip of Judgement Day
Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem – National Monument and Epochal Work
Giuseppe Verdi held the writer Alessandro Manzoni, who was 28 years his senior, in greater esteem than any of his other contemporaries. Verdi had read Manzoni’s most important work I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) with fascination as a young man. All his life he regarded this historical novel as his favourite book and during the 1840s even toyed with the idea of basing an opera on it. He also admired the writer personally as an outstanding human being and staunch patriot, however. Thus it is not surprising that the news of Manzoni’s death came as a shock to Verdi. On 23 May 1873 he wrote to his publisher Giulio Ricordi: “I am deeply saddened by the death of our great man. But I shall not come to Milan tomorrow, for I haven’t the heart to attend his funeral. I shall come in a little while to visit his grave, alone and without being seen, and perhaps, after further reflection, and after I have weighed up my strength, to propose some way of honouring his memory.” A few days later the composer explained what he had in mind to the mayor of Milan: a requiem for Alessandro Manzoni, to be premiered at a church in Milan on the first anniversary of the death of the devout Catholic.
Verdi’s quick decision was probably due to the fact that he was not caught empty-handed. In November 1868, after the death of another “great Italian”, he had proposed the composition of a collective requiem. “To honour the memory of Rossini I would wish the most distinguished Italian composers to compose a requiem mass to be performed on the anniversary of his death.” Twelve colleagues responded to the public appeal and contributed to the work without remuneration; Verdi himself composed the closing “Libera me”. Although all the movements of the requiem were submitted in time, the enterprise failed because of a dispute with the local authorities. The Messa per Rossini was relegated to a drawer for more than a century; it was not performed for the first time until 1988, in Stuttgart.
A Musical Monument
Verdi started work on the composition of his Manzoni Requiem in 1873. As was the case with the Messa per Rossini, he wanted to honour a great artist and leading Italian cultural figure. After several weeks of intensive rehearsal, the Messa da requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni – the Requiem’s original title – had a successful premiere on 22 May 1874 at the church of San Marco in Milan. A few days later Verdi conducted the Requiem at La Scala, then in Paris at the beginning of June. A carefully planned tour to Paris, London and Vienna followed in 1875. The fact that the composer introduced his new work personally abroad was due first of all to a desire for artistic control. Secondly, he wanted to present himself in the most important European musical centres as an ambassador of Italian music who also had something to say beyond the operatic stage.
The preoccupation with death occupies a central position in Verdi’s works. “They say the opera is too sad, and that there are too many deaths in it,” he wrote to a friend after the premiere of Il trovatore. “But, after all, everything in life is death. What else is there? ...” The form of the Christian mass for the dead gave Verdi the opportunity to examine the theme of death from a different perspective. His creative imagination was obviously stimulated in particular by the terrifying apocalyptic vision of the Dies irae. The strophic sequence, which originated in the Middle Ages, depicts in harsh colours the horror and terror of the Last Judgement: the resurrection of the dead, the fear of punishment, damnation and eternal death and the plea for forgiveness and salvation. This eschatological vision is taken up again in the text of the closing “Libera me”. These two sections form the supporting framework of Verdi’s Requiem.
The dramatic power of the second movement “Dies irae” is based to a large extent on its striking musical images, Verdi’s dramaturgical contrast and his judicious use of the resources available to him. One can scarcely resist the sudden outburst of powerful sound at the opening with the deafening forte blows of the entire orchestra, which is heard for the first time here, and the harsh cross accents of the bass drum. (“I am accused of being excessively fond of noise ...”, Verdi had written ironically in a letter from 1845.) The collective horror is announced by the chorus, first in a fortissimocry, then somewhat later in an ominously whispered pianissimo or a stammered sotto voce (softly, in an undertone). Starting with the seventh stanza, in which the text shifts from the third to the first person, the soloists are in the foreground. In varying combinations they describe the individual’s fear of God’s punishment and desire for salvation, then finally join forces with the chorus as a quartet in the closing “Lacrimosa”. The music frequently alternates between the greatest possible contrasts in sound and expression: deafening noise is followed by complete silence, aggression and terror by gentle, urgent entreaties, the play with spatial proximity and substance by remoteness and forlornness.
Light and Shadow
The Requiem not only demonstrates Verdi’s effective treatment of sharp contrasts, however, but also his skilful play with light and shadow. The unusual opening of the work already provides a striking example of that. The Requiem begins sombrely and in hushed tones with a plea for eternal rest for the dead, interspersed with pauses. After 16 bars, however, the music brightens unexpectedly. Following a crescendo in the strings the music changes from the dark A minor to a bright A major, thus allowing the eternal light that the chorus seeks for the dead (“et lux perpetua luceat eis”) to appear musically as well. The subtle dynamic structuring of the transition contributes substantially to the magical effect of this shift, since at the moment of this unexpected change to A major Verdi stops the crescendo and the strings suddenly play dolcissimo in triple piano.
The composer achieves a comparable but opposite effect at the enigmatic conclusion of the work. A powerful climax, in which the soprano soloist soars to a high C for the second time during the entire work in an expansive phrase again giving dramatic emphasis to the plea for deliverance (“Libera me”), is followed by a rapid relaxation of the tension. The music seems to die away in a dark C minor and does not find its way to C major until the final moment. Yet the illuminating effect and the deliverance that this final change of mode might promise fail to come. The orchestra sounds a C major chord in triple pianissimo in the lowest register. Over this dimmed chord the soprano soloist declaims the two opening lines of “Libera me” one last time, then fades away together with the chorus in two whispered cries of “Libera me”. A contemporary reviewer compared this mysterious closing to “the last flickering light of a lamp that goes out under the arches of a cathedral”. The music leaves the question of whether the plea for deliverance is heard, or can be heard at all, unanswered.
Marek Janowski has been Artistic Director of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin from 2002 to 2016. Between 1984 and 2000, as Musical Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Marek Janowski took the orchestra to a position of pre-eminence in France, as well as abroad. From 1986 to 1990, in addition to his position in Paris, Janowski was Chief Conductor of the Gürzenich-Orchester in Cologne. From 2000 to 2005 Janowski served as Music Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and from 2001 to 2003 he also held the position of Chief Conductor with the Dresdner Philharmonie. Marek Janowski’s guest conducting takes him to orchestras in the USA including the Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and in Europe with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Born in Warsaw in 1939, Janowski grew up in Germany and studied violin and piano as well as conducting in Cologne. His artistic path led him from assistant positions in Aachen, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Hamburg to his appointment as General Music Director in Freiburg im Breisgau (1973-75) and Dortmund (1975-79). He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1976 and last conducted the orchetra in June 1994 in works by Haydn, Weber and Schumann.
María José Siri studied at the School of Lyric Singing in Montevideo, the Conservatoire Les Halles in Paris, and also in Nice and Vienna under Ileana Cotrubaş. After initial engagements in South America, the Uruguayan soprano made her debut at numerous internationally renowned opera houses from 2008, including La Scala, the Vienna and Berlin state opera houses, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Semperoper in Dresden, the Brussels opera house La Monnaie and the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen where she sang the title roles of Aida,Tosca and Suor Angelica and also appeared in operas such as Eugene Onegin,La Bohème and Un ballo in maschera. Other opera engagements have taken María José Siri to the Arena di Verona (Aida,Don Giovanni) the Teatro La Fenice in Venice (Il trovatore) the Teatro Comunale Bologna (Il trovatore,Un ballo in maschera,Attila), the Teatro Regio Torino ( Tosca,Andrea Chénier,Simon Boccanegra,Otello) and the opera house in Bilbao (Don Carlos). Engagements in the 2016/2017 season include the opening night of La Scala in the title role of Madama Butterfly, Verdiʼs Requiem at the Bolshoi Theatre, Manon Lescaut in Turin, Geneva and Naples, Andrea Chénier in Rome and Tosca in Dresden and Berlin. María José Siri has worked with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Bruno Bartoletti, Zubin Mehta, Gianandrea Noseda, Renato Palumbo, Donato Renzetti and Pinchas Steinberg. The singer now makes her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Daniela Barcellona comes from Trieste where she studied singing under Alessandro Vitiello. After participating successfully in several international competitions, the mezzo-soprano was invited to the Rossini Festival in Pesaro in the summer of 1999, where her acclaimed role debut in Tancredi launched a meteoric international career. Daniela Barcellona is now regarded as one of the leading performers of the Italian bel canto repertoire. Roles such as Maffio Orsini (Lucrezia Borgia), Marquise Melibea (Il viaggio a Reims), Angelina (La Cenerentola), Ottone (Adelaide di Borgogna), Giovanna Seymour (Anna Bolena), Adalgisa (Norma), Romeo (I Capuleti ei Montecchi) and Isabella (Lʼitaliana in Algeri), plus the title roles in Sigismondo and Tancredi have taken her to opera houses such as the Arena di Verona, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Wiener Staatsoper, the Teatro Real in Madrid, Bayerische Staastsoper, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Grand Théâtre de Genève and the Opéra de Paris. In the course of her career, the singer, who has extended her repertoire in recent years to include numerous roles ranging from the Baroque to the French repertoires, has worked with renowned conductors such as Roberto Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti, Kent Nagano and Alberto Zedda. Daniela Barcellona’s most recent appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker was in Verdiʼs Requiem at the end of January 2001. The conductor was Claudio Abbado.
Roberto Aronica was born in Civitavecchia, north west of Rome, in 1969. He studied under Carlo Bergonzi and subsequently graduated from the master class of the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. The tenor made his opera debut as the Duca di Mantova (Rigoletto) at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile in 1992, after which Roberto Aronica made an international name for himself, especially in the Italian repertoire. He has appeared for example in roles such as Alfredo (La Traviata), Rodolfo (La Bohème), Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor), Nemorino (Lʼelisir dʼamore), Roberto Devereux (Roberto Devereux), Macduff (Macbeth), Rinuccio (Gianni Schicchi) and Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) in Toulouse, Florence, Amsterdam, Bologna, Venice, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, Zurich Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Londonʼs Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Opéra Bastille in Paris, Wiener Staatsoper and Deutsche Oper Berlin where he has worked together with such conductors as Roberto Abbado, Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Daniele Gatti, James Levine, Christian Thielemann and Renato Palumbo. Roberto Aronica is also in demand worldwide as a concert singer. He now appears with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time.
Riccardo Zanellato studied singing under Arrigo Pola and Bonaldo Giaiotti and obtained a diploma in classical guitar at the Conservatorio di Musica Antonio Buzzolla in Adria. The Italian bass, who has won several international singing competitions, made his stage debut in Donizettiʼs Dom Sébastien in Bologna and Bergamo. He then made an international name for himself, especially in Verdi roles such as Attila, Barbarossa (La battaglia di Legnano) and Padre Guardiano (La forza del destino) in Parma, and Sparafucile (Rigoletto) at La Scala, Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra) in Rome, Zaccaria (Nabucco ) at the Savonlinna Festival and in Copenhagen, Ramfis (Aida) in Genoa, Milan, Naples and Antwerp, Ferrando (Il trovatore) in Lausanne, Banco (Macbeth) at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin, in Lyon and Bologna, Count Walter (Luisa Miller) in Lyon and Barcelona plus Samuel (Un ballo in maschera) at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Engagements have also taken the singer to many other major opera houses in Italy and beyond, as well as the festivals in Salzburg, Ravenna, Pesaro and Macerata. Riccardo Zanellato also regularly appears on the concert stage in works such as Beethovenʼs Ninth Symphony and Verdiʼs Messa da Requiem as a guest artist with orchestras such as the Orchestre National de France and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The singer, who has worked with conductors such as Roberto Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, Riccardo Muti and Yuri Temirkanov, now appears with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time.
The Rundfunkchor Berlin(Berlin Radio Choir) is a regular guest at major festivals and the chosen partner of international orchestras and conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Christian Thielemann and Daniel Barenboim. In Berlin the choir has long-standing partnerships with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Berliner Philharmoniker. The exceptional breadth of its repertoire, its stylistic versatility, delight in experimentation, stunning responsiveness and richly nuanced sound all contribute to making it one of the world’s outstanding choral ensembles. Its work is documented by many recordings and awards, including three Grammy Awards. With its experimental project series, in collaboration with artists from diverse disciplines, the Rundfunkchor Berlin is breaking down the classical concert format and adopting new modes of choral music for a new audience: e.g. the interactive scenic version of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem staged by Jochen Sandig / Sasha Waltz & Guests attracted great attention. With annual activities such as the Sing-along Concert and the “Liederbörse” (Song Exchange) for children and young people or the education programme SING! the choir invites people of various walks of life to the world of singing. Academy and Schola support the next generation of professionals. Founded in 1925 the ensemble was shaped by conductors including Helmut Koch, Dietrich Knothe, Robin Gritton and Simon Halsey (2001-2015). As of the 2015/16 season Gijs Leenars took over as new principal conductor and artistic director. The Rundfunkchor last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 2016 with Bruckner’s F minor Mass conducted by Christian Thielemann.