In 1871, after Aida, Giuseppe Verdi went into retirement, in his farm in Sant’Agata. Two years later the Italian poet and author Alessandro Manzoni died. Manzoni represented the literary spirit of Italy, a beloved public figure, admired by the whole country. Verdi had a sincere veneration for the poet, with whom he shared patriotic ideals and political stances and decided to honour him with the composition of a Requiem Mass, to be performed on the first anniversary of the writer’s death.

Domingo Hindoyan
© Arne Hyckenberg

The music Verdi wrote to celebrate the man he so much admired is pure, distilled emotion, from humble hope to despair and rage. This is the prayer of a man convinced that God, if he does exist, is not listening. Verdi’s music tries to draw God’s attention by setting up a performance of a grandeur almost out of place in church music, as many critics have observed. The result is a composition of great theatrical character, one of the greatest achievements of the Italian master.

The Baltic Sea Festival, in Stockholm, presented a performance with Swedish artists under the baton of a Venezuelan conductor, Domingo Hindoyan, who led the Royal Swedish Orchestra, from the Kungliga Operan, in an energetic reading of the score, which perhaps lacked nuance and sophistication. Verdi’s score features many details worth underlying with accurate phrasing and suitable highlighting; the impression was that sometimes these details were glanced over and not emphasised. An example would be the famous bassoon solo in Quid sum miser, or the repeated notes the flute interpolates in the Recordare, or the many acciaccature, reminiscent of Aida, disseminated in the score.

The quartet of soloists included singers heard at the Stockholm and Göteborg Opera. The most Verdian voice of the four was mezzo soprano Miriam Treichl, who impressed with a warm, burnished middle and low voice, and a perfect legato. Her Liber scriptus in particular was intense and emotional.

Verdi's Requiem at the Baltic Sea Festival
© Arne Hyckenberg

Soprano Christina Nilsson seemed slightly out of her depth in the complex score. She debuted the title character in Aida recently and, on that occasion, sounded more at home in Verdi’s music. Her voice was warm and round, especially in the high register, with ravishing filati and beautiful, full high notes. Her ventures into the lower register were less successful: one felt something lacking in the Libera me, which was in any case delivered with commitment and emotion. Nilsson is very young: her voice may very well develop more in the lower register in the coming years.

Verdi’s Requiem is a harsh testing ground for tenors; Daniel Johansson managed reasonably, with a strong, well supported voice, even if not exactly Verdian. His high notes were confident and powerful, and served him well in the Ingemisco. Bass Anders Lorentzson sang with a warm, round voice, but his technique didn’t seem on point. The breathing did not seem to give him sufficient support, and, as a result, he tended to rush the tempo.

The chorus comprised two different ensembles, from the Stockholm and Göteborg Operas. Their performance was convincing, emotional and full of nuances. They sounded very well prepared and committed. Their explosion of sound in the Dies irae was remarkable, but the highlight of the evening was, for me, the Rex tremendae, when chorus and soloists alike gave a deeply emotional, terrifying rendition of the invocation “salva me”, with Nilsson’s high C soaring over the chorus and orchestra at full throttle, bright and clear.