Last night the Washington Donizetti Festival presented by the Opera Camerata
of Washington in conjunction with the Catholic University of America,
continued with what was billed as the American Premiere of the Original
Version for Soloists,Chorus & Organ of Donizetti's MESSA DI REQUIEM,
originally written upon the death of Bellini, but never performed in
According to the program notes by William Ashbrook the work received its
premiere in Bergamo in 1870 and was performed again on the centenaryof
Donizetti's birth (in 1897) and death (in 1948). This performance marks the
150th Anniversary of Donizetti's death which is this Wednesday April 8, 1998.
Now to the performance:
The chorus was definitely the highlight of the evening and it was largely the
student of Catholic University's reknowned music school under the baton of
Michael Cordovana (chairman of CUA's voice division). Over 60 of them sang in
an expert fashion that one would expect from a well-trained adult chorus. Very
impressive. I think we heard many of the "voices of tomorrow."
The soloists were:
Jason Stearns, bass-baritone
Armando Mora, tenor
Israel Pessoa, baritone
Kay Krekow, Soprano
Margaret Ball, mezzo-soprano
Nicolas Catravas did an expert job at the organ for all 75 minutes (nonstop).
The work ITSELF:
REQUIEM AETERNUM-KYRIE-REQUIEM AETERNUM
This 15 minute section was definitely the longest and featured only the chorus
(as did most sections) and they truly proved themselves the stars of the
evening. There was a very short appearance from the 5 soloists in unison.
IN MEMORIA AETERNA
this part-perhaps not as massive or menacing as the Verdi "Dies Irae"
definitely made you think about the "day of wrath". The chorus (again) was
forceful and very together.
Here the three male soloists (though mostly Mr Stearns with the other two as
echos) shined....Mr. Stearns (as you shall see) had most of the solos and
proved to be a perfect choice for the part.
The tenor, Mr Mora started off in fine tone and was joined by Mr. Pessoa. This
section was perhaps the weakest part of the entire composition.
REX TREMENDAE MAJESTATIS
A truly majestic opening from the chorus and a very short sweet one line solo
from the soprano. Donizetti barely used the mezzo as a soloist, and the
soprano hardly got a couple of notes more throughout the work. Mr. Pessoa
joined in for a another time and I felt his voice was quite good, but that
perhaps the part did not lie just right for him.
According to the program, this tenor solo "is twice as long as Verdi's and
requires great stamina and breath control". Mr Mora managed the stamina and
breath control, but you could see from the expression on his face that he was
not totally happy with the results. His voice seemed to wander off key at
times and all I could think was that I wouldn't wish this part on anybody!
Despite the difficulty of the piece, he did a very admirable job.
Here Mr. Mora fared better in this very short trio with mezzo & baritone.
The chorus returned with all five soloists chiming in a couple of times. Once
again, though the soloists were very good, it was the chorus that shined.
(I can't hep resisting the thought that "Confutatis Maledictis" sounds like
some horrible psycho-malady!)
(This sounds like the medical treatment for someone who uses foul language!!)
This was the solo highlight of the evening for Mr Stearns. It was right in
his range and he gave us that full rich baritone voice we all yearn to hear.
LACRYMOSA DIES ILLA
Again Mr Stearns was featured with the chorus joining in later. I loved his
singing, but it made me wonder why Donizetti never let the women sing any
DOMINE, JESU CHRISTE
Here was a choral reprise of the earlier REQUIEM AETERNUM
The choral entry was VERY unsure here. Several factors may have caused this.
1)Two chorusters had apparently passed out or felt faint (one male, one
female) just prior and they were standing in the same spots the entire 75
minutes! It was very comfortable in the church, but I think these incidents
took the rest of the chorus off guard. The work continued smoothly...(2) they
just may not have had this section rehearsed as well as the others.
Whatever the cause, the tutti here were definitely not together.
A short baritone solo (again Mr Stearns) followed with a very dramatic quartet
for the other four singers.
LIBERA ME DOMINE
Oddly enough the work ended with the chorus and four soloists minus Mr.
The audience was unsure it was over as no one was familiar with the work. But
once we figured it out there was a resounding applause.
I fault Dr. Cordovana for not pointing to the chorus during the bows to
acknowledge their participation. I am used to hearing a resounding increase
in the applause when the conductor does this and felt the audience wanted to
acknowledge their very hard work.
It was a wonderful evening at St Matthews with a very large crowd. As many of
us know, the acoustics here basically stink (I call it "reberation station"),
but from my second row seat I must say I heard quite well!
Well, that's it for now.
Look for me at BEN HEPPNER's Washington area recital debut on Wednesday APRIL
8 at George Mason Univ Centre for the Arts.
ALAN J. SAVADA, C.T.C.
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<<If you ask me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you I came to live out loud>>--Emile Zola
****************LIFE IS A CABERNET!