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VERDI: Messa da Requiem

DVD Button Stoyanova, Simeoni; Meli, Zeppenfeld; Philharmonia Zürich, Chor der Opera Zürich, Luisi. Production: Christian Spuck. Accentus ACC10392 (Blu-ray)/ACC20392 (DVD), 96 mins., 57 mins. (bonus), subtitles

Recordings Verdi Requiem DVD Cover 418
Critics Choice Button 1015 

CHOREOGRAPHER Christian Spuck, director of Ballett Zürich, stages Verdi’s deeply human Requiem as a ballet, melding soloists, chorus, dancers and orchestra into an ensemble that elicits loss, searching, hope, salvation and uncertainty. The stage images and gestures, performed by dancers and singers, are abstract; there is no clear narrative. Spuck’s concept focuses on the emotional power of the music rather than on a fabricated storyline. The lack of a superimposed plot and the symbiosis of music and movement, sound and image, make this live performance of Verdi’s timeless masterpiece, recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in December 2016, resonate more strongly than a traditional concert or a radical operatic reimagining would have.

Verdi’s Requiem is often presented in concert, with singers and chorus stationed safely behind their music stands and scores. Here, the singers and chorus not only perform from memory, they do so while executing their own choreography and movements alongside the entire company of Ballett Zürich. They do not merely supply the live soundtrack for the ballet dancers; they’re integrated into the stage picture. Likewise, Spuck’s choreography doesn’t dance to the music—it inhabits it. Physical gestures and shapes follow and enhance the mood of the score, whether they be erratic and frightening, as in the Dies Irae section, or lyrical and ethereal, as throughout the Offertorium. The music and the choreography evoke emotions and moods that allow the audience members to superimpose their own feelings, experiences and narratives. Spuck’s isn’t a death mass for one person. Instead, it’s an invitation to look and listen inward, to search for one’s own personal rest.

The four soloists bring personal artistry to the score while weaving themselves seamlessly into the ensemble. Bass Georg Zeppenfeld gives a wounded, shell-shocked performance that’s almost shattering, whereas tenor Francesco Meli sings with authority and perfectly controlled, honey-toned pianissimo in the Ingemisco and Hostias. Mezzo-soprano Veronica Simeoni sings with worldly sincerity, which grounds her duets with the spellbinding musicality of soprano Krassimira Stoyanova. They are led, with the superb Chor der Oper Zürich, by the expert hand of Fabio Luisi, conducting the Philharmonia Zürich.  

Christian Schmidt’s set consists of three slate-colored walls illuminated, darkened and covered in shadows by the brilliant lighting design of Martin Gebhardt. Costume-designer Emma Ryott outfits the soloists, choir and members of the Ballet Zürich in black suits, dresses and, in Stoyanova’s case, a simple black pantsuit. It all suggests a world ever shifting between light and shadow, chaos and peace. 

At the end, in the Libera Me, the stage lights come on, and the company seems to address the audience directly as the piece fades to its conclusion. Are they begging for deliverance from others, or are they asking themselves for deliverance? It’s an appropriately ambiguous ending that encourages those watching to contemplate their own answers. —Steven Jude Tietjen 



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