Regarded as a work that sings the language of grand opera on the stage of the concert hall, Verdi’s grand choral memorial — composed in 1874 to the memory of the poet Alessandro Manzoni has long ennobled the repertories of both kinds of performing groups. Recent concert performances in Los Angeles have found the work at home in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on L.A. Philharmonic auspices under the batons of Zubin Mehta and Carlo Maria Giulini most notably. Sunday afternoon, with the stage still warm from the “Fidelio” premiere the night before, found the Requiem back in operatic hands, not necessarily to best advantage.
Placido Domingo, L.A. Opera’s tenorissimo, impresario and — increasingly nowadays — maestro, assembled an impressive quartet to manage the work’s stunningly beautiful vocal demands, along with his own opera chorus and orchestra. The vocal forces were wonderful, most of all the spectacular German basso René Pape in his long-prayed-for local debut, chilling all spinal columns as he sang of “Death and Nature, standing amazed on Judgment Day.”
Also new: Arturo Chacón-Cruz, the latest in a line of baby-faced Mexican tenors, and good of the breed. L.A. Opera stalwarts Adrienne Pieczonka and Stephanie Blythe completed the ranks.
Yes, but … the problem lay not in the vocal ranks but on the podium itself, with the Domingo baton, all too clearly made of wood, seemingly unable to draw the grand Verdian lyric line out of all the rest of those grand folks onstage. You don’t get beautiful music out of performers by merely poking a stick at them, as this sad –and, please note, overpriced — venture unhappily displayed. The performance was offered as memorial to the late Edgar Baitzel, the company’s chief operating officer, with an additional reference to the passing of Luciano Pavarotti — who had never appeared with the company — tipped in.