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Opera Holland Park: Verdi’s Requiem (Susan Elkin reviews)

Tuesday 01 August 2017

Of course I’ve heard many performances of Verdi’s Requiem and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sung (alto) in the chorus for amateur attempts. Never, though, have I heard or felt it delivered with such heartfelt passion as in this memorial for Opera Holland Park employee, Debbie Lamprell, who died in nearby Grenfell Tower in June. Every one involved in the performance including two conductors (who swapped before the Offertorio), City of London Sinfonia, all the singers and a huge front of house team had given their services in order to raise funds for the Rugby Portobello Trust which is supporting Grenfell Tower victims.

In many ways, this really is Verdi’s greatest opera. Atheist he was but he certainly understood emotion wherever it springs from. The Lacrymosa (conducted here by Peter Robinson) is a terrific B flat minor dialogue between the woodwind and mezzo. Yvonne Howard who has the clarety richness of an old fashioned contralto in the lower registers squeezed every drop of feeling out of those sexy chromatic shifts.

Anne Sophie-Duprels (who sang the title role in Opera Holland Park’s Zaza this season) started Libera Me in a restrained, understated way – clearly a deliberate decision because she builds it to a terrific climax.

Neal Cooper is very actorly singer to watch and I suspect he’s more at home in opera than oratorio. He throws himself, face screwed up, somewhat disconcertingly into every note although the sound is good especially when he reaches the pianissimo of “Salva me” in the Rex Tremendae movement with all its contrasts and mood shifts.

Bass Barnaby Rea makes a lovely edge-of-your-seat start on the dramatic “Mors” passage in the Tuba Mirum. It’s marked pp but he does it at an even lower dynamic which gives a sense of death creeping in insidiously – and totally appropriately for this particular event. On the other had he sings the rest of his part so gently that it felt more like a rehearsal sing-through than a performance which mean that he was, often , overpowered by the other three when he shouldn’t be.

The chorus sang with immaculate precision, power and control. Many OHP principals and guest artists were included and that really showed.

Full marks too to City of London Sinfonia who played magnificently. There’s something about the layout and acoustic of Opera Holland Park (and the direction of Peter Robinson and Sian Edwards) which allows you to hear aspects of Verdi’s orchestration which usually get muddied away.  There was some delightful, very audible, work in this performance, for example, from principal flute Alison Hayhurst and timpanist Tristan Fry. And what an inspired idea to place the offstage trumpets at the back of the auditorium for Tuba Mirum – total immersion in the last trumpet and the day of judgement.

A note in the programme, signed by Opera Holland Park’s directors James Clutton and Michael Volpe “and the staff and trustees of Investec Opera Holland Park” declares: “We can think of no better way for commemorate the victims or to express our feelings than to make music”. They are right.

First published by Lark Reviews http://www.larkreviews.co.uk/?cat=3

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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