DVD recordings of Verdi’s ‘opera in ecclesiastical robes’ have become more commonplace in recent years, the catalogue now boasting (mostly) acclaimed accounts from Mehta (2005), Temirkanov (2011) and Barenboim (2013), as well as ‘archive’ offerings from Giulini (1964), Karajan (1967) and Abbado (1982).
The latest competitor to challenge these ‘indoor’ performances comes from the slightly incongruous setting of the Hollywood Bowl, where 11,000+ Californians listened to the heavily amplified Los Angeles forces during two evenings last August. They are certainly a quiet audience, despite the preponderance of wine glasses and other picnic paraphernalia. Judicious editing has also removed the disturbance from passing helicopters and police sirens.
Conducting from memory, Dudamel favours broad tempi, an approach reinforced by his baton-less direction, with much moulding of hand gestures, mouthing the chorus’s words and flicking his curly mane to emphasise where the strong beats are (or should be) – since there are times when he seems to be following the orchestra’s lead. Nonetheless, he draws beautifully nuanced playing from his highly responsive orchestra and offstage trumpeters (who really do sound lontano, in the distance). The cellos float effortlessly through the opening phrases of the Offertorio and the woodwind’s contribution is universally excellent. The visual impact of the bass drummer thwacking two drums simultaneously is matched by the sonic gain.
Although the Requiem is not a difficult piece in terms of chorus notes, it does require stamina and discipline. The diction of the well-drilled Los Angeles Master Chorale is exemplary, with crisp enunciation, perfect tuning and unanimity of attack. The solo quartet can make or break a performance, depending on whether they view it competitively or as an ensemble piece. The greatest pleasure comes from the soprano, Juliana DiGiacomo, whose ravishing tone is spread evenly across a true Verdian range, with a honeyed lower register and high notes which can sear the ear, though never screechingly so. The mezzo Michelle De Young is less impressive; her flailing vibrato can become tiresome, though when singing in octaves with the soprano, the tuning is perfectly matched. Vittorio Grigolo sings his tenor sections with impassioned fervour, although there are a couple of sloppy moments in the ‘Ingemisco’. Verdi’s passages for the bass are not as stretching as for the other soloists but Ildebrando D’Arcangelo despatches them with a firm tone and eloquent phrasing.
Visually, I wonder how often one would regularly re-view this performance. Some of the camera angles are awkward and the lighting makes everything look somewhat flat. The bonus chapter consists of rehearsal material and a lengthy (though not especially helpful) interview with Dudamel. He does not explain, for example, why he pulls the tempo about so much, for example in the final Libera me. His interpretation is sound, if a little stodgy. I feel that the Requiem requires a more turbulent approach than that presented here, despite the sonic splendours of the closely miked musicians.