Teatro Regio in Turin paid its first seasonal tribute to Giuseppe Verdi with an engaging execution of the Messa da Reqiuem. Even though Verdi was agnostic and often even anticlerical, he dedicated his last years to the Requiem and some other liturgical works: Ave Maria, Stabat Mater, Laudi alla Vergine Maria and the Te Deum. Was old age making Verdi face fear and doubts towards death and the hereafter? The Requiem was composed as a celebration for the first anniversary of the death of Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni. The Catholic author of I promessi sposi was considered the only true saint by Verdi: he represented the symbol of the nation and was a model of virtue.

Some Requiems, such as Brahms’, flow as melancholic, resigned and calm odes in front of death – something that goes beyond our limits of comprehension and has to be accepted. Conversely, Verdi’s perception of the sacred is quite different. Anyone can feel life and passion burning in his Reqiuem: death is something unfair that puts an end to life and anything worthwhile. Verdi used the scores of the Catholic Missa pro defunctis, which was traditionally meant to help the dead reach their ultimate destination. In Verdi’s work, despite the score, a battle against a mysterious and an unjust destiny is being fought. It reminds me of Michelangelo’s Il giudizio universale: little humans raise their fists towards heaven, standing with all their dignity in front of God. Even though condemned to damnation or redeemed to salvation, humans carry something heroic. They have, at least, the freedom to resist and oppose an unfaithful fate, the arcane obscurity of life and the pain of departure.

Soprano Erika Grimaldi, mezzo Daniela Barcellona, tenor Gregory Kunde and bass Michele Petrusi performed well, overall. Barcellona deserves a special mention. Not only does she possesses a beautiful voice, but she stood out for her fine technique: she was at ease with both the higher as well as the lower notes. Her timbre is crystalline with beautiful shades. Her solo parts, such as Liber Scriptus, were moving. The bass part was flawlessly sung by Petrusi, whose musical discipline is elegant and satisfying, very well done.

Grimaldi did better in the duets together with Barcellona than in her own solos. This was not a bad performance, but she seemed to be under pressure. She never faltered, but her performance was monotonous and occasionally flat, especially in Recordare and the final Libera me.

Gregory Kunde is an experienced singer in Italian and French repertoire. Among his other roles, he has played an appreciated Verdi’s Otello . Endowed with an exquisitely bronzed and burnished voice, he knows how to sing Verdi and his phrasing is skillful. He copes easily with the lower register and, during this performance, sang with passion. On stage, he displayed his magnetic presence and took good care of all the musical flourishes, especially in the charming rendition of Ingemisco. Unfortunately, he seemed to struggle to maintain notes in the higher register: on the whole, his performance was technically flawless, but his voice started to sound fatigued.

Gianandrea Noseda conducted with enthusiasm (sometimes literally jumping on the pedestal) and with full attention to the nuances  of the score, invoking the brilliance of his accomplished orchestra and chorus. His palette ranged from the frenzied rhythm of the disturbing Dies irae and the imposing Rex tremendae, to the almost whispered Reqiuem aeternam and the morbid Agnus Dei (in which both Grimaldi and Barcellona sang particularly well), with the light murmuring of the chorus and strings. An outstanding energy emanated from the orchestra throughout. The Dies irae, which recurs several times with its overwhelming intensity, was a violent deflagration of strings, trumpets and choir. It felt more like falling into hell, than rising towards paradise.

The theme of the Lacrymosa is taken from a scene from Verdi’s Don Carlo, later discarded, where King Philip II laments the death, under orders from the Inquisition, of the Marquis of Posa. In this way, the fragility of life, the human helplessness before a wider and superior being, contrasted by human dignity, permeate the music and contribute towards the operatic dimension of the Requiem (even Bülow defined it as “an opera with liturgical shape”).