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Verdi: Requiem (Teatro Alla Scala Di Milano) [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]
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Daniel Barenboim conducts this version of Verdi's choral piece recorded at the Teatro all Scala, Milan, in 2012. The production was Barenboim's first as Music Director of the Milanese theatre and features performances by Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros, Elina Garanca and René Pape.
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I also bought the mini-score: Requiem (Messa Da Requiem) Miniature Score which added further to my enjoyment and explains why I did not pay much attention to the pictures.
Finally this performance has come out on Blu-ray and I pre-ordered it from Amazon. Having watched it on some very high-end equipment, I was reminded of how superb that performance had been.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the score with great affection and feeling. The chorus and orchestra of La Scala certainly live up to their name, simply outstanding. As for the soloists, Anja Harteros sings beautifully, with great easy and superb tone of voice. Elina Garanca is up to her usual superb standards. She sings with a superb voice, with character, pathos and plenty of feeling. Jonas Kaufmann sings very powerfully, fills the theatre with his voice that resounds in that immense space. Rene Pape sings in somewhat a softer tone to what I am used to. His voice is perhaps not as deep as some basses of the past like Boris Christoff, but still very expressive.
The high definition recording gives a very clear and crisp image with very rich colours and wonderful views of the theatre. The sound is also first rate, but unfortunately, I cannot but compare it with the live experience, which can never be equalled. I highly recommend this disc.
The choral and orchestral forces of La Scala, Milan, respond well to Barenboim's direction, with the brass and woodwind sections in particular making the most of the opportunities Verdi gives them. The `Tuba mirum' is very exciting and the woodwind provide a delicate and delightful backdrop for the `Agnus Dei'. The choir, rather bigger than I expected, produces a glorious paean of sound in the `Dies irae' and the `Libera me', but, perhaps because there are so many of them, they do not quite manage the extreme pianissimos that Verdi asks for in places.
The four soloists are all excellent. I had not heard Anja Harteros, the soprano, since she won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1999 and was delighted to hear how she has matured. Her tone is sweet, especially in the upper register, very rich lower down the scale and the voice is sufficiently powerful to ride above the chorus in the `Libera me'. Her B flat at the end of the quiet section of this movement is perfectly produced.
Elina Garanca is equally good in the mezzo part, giving us a ringing `Liber scriptus' and some truly beautiful singing in the `Lachrymosa' and the `Lux aeterna'. Her duet with Harteros in the `Recordare' is, for me, one of the high points of the performance.
Jonas Kaufmann gives a thoroughly operatic rendering of the tenor part with blazing top notes in the `Ingemisco', but he also produces great delicacy and beauty of tone in the `Hostias et preces tibi'.
René Pape is not my ideal Verdi bass, but since we no longer have Ghiaurov or Siepi, then we must make the most of what we have. He sings with sincerity and feeling and is as sonorous as one could wish in the `Confutatis maledictis'. I have one cavil. The bass has a vitally important unaccompanied entry after the great climax of the `Salva me' and to my ear at least, his intonation is not absolutely secure at this point
The title of this review contains a `but' and this is it. Why a DVD? This is not a visually exciting experience, except in one respect. It is marvellous to see Barenboim wringing his ideal performance from the forces arrayed before him. He conducts without a score, and is concerned with every tiny detail of Verdi's orchestration and vocal writing. He has a couple of gimmicky whispers from the chorus, which purists may not like, but his total dedication to the work is obvious. That excepted, there is no visual element in this recording which is interesting, let alone exciting. I have never seen and now shall never see the inside of the most famous opera house in the world and I didn't see it in this DVD, most of which is in darkness. There was barely a glimpse of the ladies' gowns and close-ups of people singing are not always helpful. I did not need to know that Anja Harteros often sings out of the side of her mouth, or that Elina Garanca, one of my favourite artists, appears to feel that a requiem requires that she should look permanently like a disapproving schoolmistress. Facial expressions can be interesting in an operatic performance but have little to contribute to a concert. When I played this disc for the third time, it was with my eyes shut and I enjoyed it much more. As an audio recording it deserves a ringing five stars; as a visual experience only two.
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