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Verdi Requiem – Merry Opera Company (Susan Elkin reviews)

It is often said that his Requiem is Verdi’s greatest opera and it certainly isn’t short of musical drama. So it’s an interesting idea for an opera company to “stage” it as opposed to singing it from the front in a choral group. Stage director John Ramster (who also directs the company’s well established staged Messiah) sends his performers all over the church busily acting out their individual dramas and chalking key words such as “light”, “guilt” and “sorry” on boards.

Accompaniment on organ by Richard Leach works pretty well although, of course, one misses the bass drum and the brass in Tuba Mirum.

The cast consists of eleven young opera singers plus bass, Matthew Quirk an ex-businessman who founded and runs Merry Opera Company. Each ensemble member has worked out his or her back story and each is, in some way, coming to terms with the inevitability (or imminence?) of death. Of course the audience isn’t privy to the details of these personal stories and what we see is a great deal of facial horror, awe, despair along with much gesturing, some of it quite neatly choreographed.

Much of this, especially the constant movement of people amongst and around the audience, is off-puttingly distracting, but there are two massive upsides which make this performance a pretty riveting experience.

First every single note sung by anyone is deliberately sung to someone else – another performer, an audience member or some sort of unseen presence. It means that there is far more passion and intensity in the singing than I have ever heard in a conventional concert performance. And it’s very much an ensemble piece because the solos and chorus parts are split among all 12 performers – that’s what you can do (musical director: Mark Austin – who conducts from a side aisle) if you have a complete team of accomplished solo-standard voices.

Second, because the singers are often dotted around the church in various configurations each audience member is inside the sound. When you can hear the tenor line in the Dies Irae being sung only a few feet away from you or the alto part of the silky Lacrymosa from just along the pew you’re sitting in, you hear the music – however well you think you know it – from a completely fresh perspective.

Almost all the singers in this group are good – and it can’t be easy to keep everything together when your amorphous groupings are so disparate. There is especially fine work from Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz who is an absolutely stonking soprano and from Emma Stannard who has a beautifully modulated mezzo voice.

It’s well worth catching:

Sat 7 October, University Church of St Mary, Oxford

Sat 14 October. St John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent

Thurs 19 October, St James’s Piccadilly

Sat 21 October, St Peter’s, Broadstairs, Kent

Sun 29 October, Our Lady of the Star of the Sea, Lowestoft.

First published by Lark Reviews:


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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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