Monday, June 01, 2009

Verdi Requiem

Verdi Requiem
Friday, May 29, 2009, 8 pm
War Memorial Opera House - San Francisco

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Soprano: Patricia Racette Heidi Melton
Mezzo-soprano: Stephanie Blythe
Tenor: Stefano Secco
Bass: Andrea Silvestrelli
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
San Francisco Opera Chorus

Chorus Director: Ian Robertson

I felt lucky & grateful to be part of the audience for this special concert honoring Donald Runnicles. I have certainly been a fan throughout his 17 year tenure with the opera. The house looked full, & there was a sense of occasion. I even spotted composer Jake Heggie seated several rows in front of me. Seeing the opera orchestra & chorus on the stage gave me flashbacks to when the San Francisco Symphony used to perform in the opera house.

As soon as the soloists entered in the Kyrie, it was clear that Runnicles had lined up a powerhouse of a quartet. Heidi Melton was an awesome last-minute replacement for Racette. Her thick, beautiful voice easily soared over the orchestra & chorus, even when they were going at full blast. I'd never heard Stephanie Blythe before, so I was blown away by her solid, deeply-rooted voice. Bass Andrea Silvestrelli seemed to be channeling some orotund vibration from another dimension every time he opened his mouth. Tenor Stefano Secco was the smallest one of the group, but his voice was taut & penetrating. All of them seemed to have endless supplies of air & no need to breathe.

It was of course an operatic performance, with the soloists upstaging everything else. I loved it when the members of the quartet sometimes turned & sang to each other. This worked especially well for Heidi & Stephanie in the Recordare, which was a highlight of the performance.

After the last chord, the audience maintained a long, appreciative silence, not making a noise until Runnicles had fully dropped his arms, at which point the house responded with a standing ovation. It was a fine gift from the audience. This was followed by official expressions of appreciation from General Director David Gockley, President George Hume, & Chairman of the Board John Gunn, who presented Runnicles with a medal he fished out of his pocket like a nervous best man at a wedding. All the speeches were a bit bumpy, as if the speakers were either choked with emotion or just really scared to be on that stage. Runnicles also spoke a few words, at one point perhaps ironically commending San Francisco audiences for being willing to expose themselves to new things on stage.

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