by Giuseppe Verdi
Friday, October 30 – 7:30 PM
Presented at DeVos Performance Hall
Kicking off the season was a gala concert featuring the dramatic and beautiful sounds of Verdi’s renowned Requiem, conducted by internationally acclaimed conductor and composer, Steven Mercurio.
Conducted by Maestro Steven Mercurio
Opera Grand Rapids Chorus | Grand Rapids Symphony
From the Audience
“orchestra was super – conductor a show-stopper – singers were amazing – choir was tremendous – the best presentation and singing I can remember in a long time… that closing final number – WOW!”
“Absolutely wonderful. I’ve seen this performed a few times in my life so far and this was definitely one of the best performances. DeVos is probably my favorite venue next to the Chicago Opera house. Guest stars were great but my favorite was the Soprano. This was my first time to see this conductor and he was marvelous. Delightful occasion!!”
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Meet the Conductor
Maestro Steven Mercurio, conductor
Maestro Steven Mercurio is an internationally acclaimed conductor and composer whose musical versatility encompasses the symphonic and operatic worlds. After receiving his Masters degree from the Juilliard School he became Music Director of the Spoleto Festival for five years, and, Principal Conductor of the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Maestro Mercurio is also a sought after collaborator for many award winning recordings, arrangements and film projects.
For the stage, he has conducted more than forty-five different operas in seven different languages. His engagements have taken him to many of the world’s best loved opera houses including the Teatro dell’Opera, Roma; Teatro Bellini, Catania; Teatro Filarmonico, Verona; Teatro Reggio, Torino; Teatro Verdi, Trieste; Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Bonn Opera, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, English National Opera as well as the American opera companies of San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle, Detroit, Opera Pacific, Florida Grand, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Cincinnati. More.
Read our interview with Maestro Steven Mercurio.
Meet the Artists
Elizabeth Caballero, soprano
Soprano Elizabeth Caballero’s performance in her signature role, Violetta in La traviata is touted as “animated, communicative and believable, singing with a big, facile, focused sound while making the vocal demands of the role seem easy and natural.” Her dramatically compelling interpretation of Violetta led to recent engagements to perform the role for houses across the country, such as Florentine Opera, Madison Opera, Pacific Symphony, and the Orlando Philharmonic.
She was engaged to perform the role of Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème for the Metropolitan Opera after grabbing the audience’s attention in the role at New York City Opera when The New York Times hailed Ms. Caballero as “the evening’s most show-stopping performance offering a thrilling balance of pearly tone, exacting technique and brazen physicality.” She subsequently returned to The Met in their new production of Carmen as part of The Met: Live in HD series. More.
Margaret Lattimore, mezzo-soprano
Grammy nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore has gained acclaim in recent seasons for her versatility in performing the works of Handel, Rossini, and Mozart alongside Mahler, Verdi, and Wagner. Following her Summer 2014 debut with Des Moines Metro Opera as Mrs. De Rocher in Dead Man Walking and Ragonde in Le Comte Ory, she returns to the Metropolitan Opera for the 2014-2015 Season as the Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte, Praskowia in The Merry Widow, Antonia’s Mother in Les contes d’Hoffmann, and Mother Goose in The Rake’s Progress.
After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions at the age of 24, Margaret Lattimore became a member of the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. In October of that same year, she made her Met debut as Dorotea in Stiffelio. Her subsequent engagements at the Met include Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby, the Countess in Andrea Chénier, The Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte, and Meg Page in Falstaff. Other recent opera appearances include the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters with Opera Philadelphia and Gotham Chamber Opera; and performances with New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, Dallas Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Florida Grand Opera, Central City Opera, San Diego Opera and Boston Lyric Opera, among others. More.
John Pickle, tenor
Tenor John Pickle is quickly making a name for himself, most recently for his portrayals of Erik in Der fliegende Holländer, a role he debúted with Los Angeles Opera. Of a performance as the jilted hunter with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, the Kansas City Star raved, “Pickle’s emotionally wrought characterization drove this [performance] even harder home than usual.” In recent seasons, Mr. Pickle also enjoyed performances as Erik with Utah Festival Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre, as well as Canio in Pagliacci with Michigan Opera Theatre; Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera and Don José in Carmen with Opera Tampa; Radamés in Aïda with Dayton Opera; Turiddu and Canio in Opera Delaware’s double-bill production of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci; and the title role in Candide with Fresno Grand Opera. More.
Andrew Gangestad, bass
Accomplished bass Andrew Gangestad has been applauded for his dark, rich sound and strong musicality by audiences throughout the world. Of his performance as Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, the Kansas City Star wrote “Andrew Gangestad demonstrated a glorious bass voice,” and, of his performance of Leporello in Don Giovanni with Opera Pacific, the Orange County Register wrote “Andrew Gangestad portrays the long-suffering Leporello with aplomb, crisp in accent, dark of voice and understated in comedy.” Recently, Andrew returned to the roster of the Metropolitan Opera for its production of Wozzeck, performed Alidoro in La Cenerentola with Opera Omaha, and Méphistophélès in Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust with the Richmond Symphony. More.
Surrounding the Performance
Verdi’s Messa da Requiem
In Verdi’s long career, very little of his composing was devoted to liturgical music, and most of that was done when he was quite young. Considering Verdi’s attitude toward the Catholic Church, we are not surprised; it ranged from indifference to open hostility, especially with regard to the church’s heavy-handed censorship, authoritarianism and steadfast opposition to Italian unification. Even his devoted wife Giuseppina, who tried endlessly to bring him back into the church, concluded the following: “Verdi held the highest virtues, though an atheist.” And, no matter how many other people tried to return him to the religion of his youth, he remained either indifferent or at times openly hostile.
When Alessandro Manzoni died in the spring of 1873, Verdi was so distraught he could not attend the funeral. Manzoni—writer, patriot and defender of the underclass—was author of the Italian classic I promessi sposi (The Betrothed, 1840) and one of Verdi’s heroes. I promessi sposi was a novel that had a strong influence on Italy’s long delayed Risorgimento and, until recently, was the one work of literature every Italian student read in school, certainly the most popular novel in the Italian language. Not intended as a propaganda novel, it nevertheless nurtured the growing midcentury Italian patriotism that led to the establishment of the Italian state in 1860. And though the novel takes place in early 1600s Lombardy, then under the oppressive domination of Spain, readers could easily equate this with the Austrians, their 19th-century oppressors. This was a theme and approach Verdi himself took two years later in Nabbuco (1842), where Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces were easily recognized as the hated Austrian overlords.
Wanting to mark the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, Verdi approached Milan’s mayor with the offer to compose a requiem mass. After the mayor agreed, Verdi spent the summer composing the Requiem, and by the following April, it was completed. For the anniversary performance he chose Milan’s San Marco Church as the most suitable site, as well as for its excellent acoustics. For weeks, he worked tirelessly rehearsing the massive chorus, orchestra and soloists, and on May 22, 1874, the Messa da Requiem was performed. Verdi conducted this performance himself, and except for clerical critics, it was a huge success. Considered an instant masterpiece, Verdi repeated it three days later, this time at La Scala. These performances were immediately followed by others all over Italy and Europe.
Never before had a requiem been greeted with such enthusiasm, but for over a century, critics have been divided over this question: Is Verdi’s Messa da Requiem really a requiem as defined by the Catholic Church? If we look at its text, the answer is “yes,” since it consists of the seven sections traditional in Catholic requiems composed before 1962. But critics insisted it was disguised opera, a charge Verdi dismissed. His answer to his critics can also be found in his instructions to the singers: “One must not sing … as one sings an opera, and therefore, the coloriti [a singer’s phrasing, etc.] that may be good for the theater will not be to my liking at all.” But Verdi’s own words have not convinced critics who continue to disparage the Requiem as “opera, in ecclesiastical dress.”
We know that Verdi rejected musical classifications such as sacred and secular. For him, music was either good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate to the subject. So when it came to expressing his feeling about Manzoni, whose life so inspired him and millions of other Italians, Verdi took the traditional requiem form and poured into it all the emotion the text provided, as he had always done in transforming librettos into opera, bringing the characters to life through music. All this is hardly surprising from a composer of such genius when he chose the requiem form to express his sorrow over the loss of a man whose life and spirit had meant so much to him and all freedom-loving Italians. As music scholar Charles Osborne so aptly put it, “Never before had there been a Requiem Mass like this: agnostic, dramatic, popular.”
-Gilbert R. Davis, English Professor, Emeritus, GVSU
About the Composer
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer primarily known for this operas. He is considered, with Richard Wagner, the preeminent opera composer of the 19th century. Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and some of his melodies have taken root in popular culture, examples being “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (The Drinking Song) from La traviata, “Va, pensiero” (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, the “Coro di zingari” (Anvil Chorus) from Il trovatore and the “Grand March” from Aida. More.
After Gioachino Rossini’s death in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini’s honor. He began the effort by submitting the concluding movement, the Libera me. During the next year a Messa per Rossini was compiled by Verdi and twelve other famous Italian composers of the time. The premiere was scheduled for 13 November 1869, the first anniversary of Rossini’s death.
However, on 4 November, nine days before the premiere, the organising committee abandoned it. On 22 May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem—this time entirely of his own writing—for Manzoni.
At the time the Requiem was composed, female singers were not permitted to perform in Catholic Church rituals (such as a requiem mass). However, from the beginning Verdi intended to use female singers in the work. In his open letter proposing the Requiem project (when it was still conceived as a multi-author Requiem for Rossini), Verdi wrote: If I were in the good graces of the Holy Father [i.e., the Pope], I would beg him to permit—if only for this one time—that women take part in the performance of this music; but since I am not, it will fall to someone else better suited to obtain this decree.” More.