Why this Verdi Requiem is must see!

Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. CONTRIBUTED

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Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. CONTRIBUTED

Close to 200 performers will appear at the DPAA’s Season Opening Spectacular

The folks at the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance are certain their upcoming take on Verdi’s “Requiem” will be the one of the first of its kind in the world.

At 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17, hundreds of performers will come together on the Schuster Center’s Mead Theatre stage to present the 2017–2018 Season Opening Spectacular. Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem” is known as the most theatrical requiem ever composed. The musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass is written for four soloists, double choir and orchestra.

“Every performance of the Verdi ‘Requiem’ is special. It’s one of the most amazing, most powerful, most dramatic, most beautiful pieces I know,” says Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Neal Gittleman. “But this one will be unlike any of the others because of the staging and the dancing. We’re taking a piece that’s ‘theater of the imagination’ and making it into actual theater onstage. That will make it very exciting and very different from any Verdi ‘Requiem’ I’ve ever heard, sung, played, or conducted. I can’t wait!”

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Gittleman says the music runs the gamut from “almost-silent” to “all-hell-breaking-loose loud.”

“It’s high-emotion music, just like his operas,” Gittleman says. “Maybe even more so. Extra trumpets don’t hurt either!”

Coming up with a new idea

DPAA president and CEO Paul Helfrich says when the three performing arts groups first joined together, the hope was to present collaborative performances that had never been seen before in Dayton. Verdi’s “Requiem” seemed a perfect vehicle.

“The ‘Requiem’ is a frequently performed concert work in this country — usually by orchestras, sometimes by opera companies,” Helfrich explains. “It’s always done in a traditional, visually-static concert presentation. But because it is filled with drama and has a closer connection to Verdi’s operatic stage works than it does with traditional Requiem settings, we decided to bring Dayton audiences a bold new interpretation of a familiar classic with this innovative take.”

Adding dance

Surrounding the soloists will be the 19 dancers of the Dayton Ballet, including five new members of the troupe.

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“The addition of dance will visually enhance the full emotion of Verdi’s masterpiece,” says the Ballet’s artistic director Karen Russo Burke. “This is quite an exciting event for the company as we have not been a part of a Requiem before.”

Burke says this opportunity allows her company to dig deeper into more emotionally-driven choreography. “With the power of the chorus behind us and the principal singers among us it will drive the energy of the danced sections to a new and fantastic level.”

Taking the stage

Dayton Opera’s artistic director Thomas Bankston says the piece won’t “literally” be staged; there won’t be a story line and the soloists won’t be turned into characters. “Our intention is for the soloists to present the texts they sing — not as just recitations of the liturgical texts, but rather as heightened and sincere first-person expressions.”

Opera excerpts will be performed in Latin with English surtitles. Unlike most concert presentations, the full Dayton Philharmonic will be in the pit. The stage will be set up with the Dayton Opera Chorus and the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus chorus on risers at the back of the stage — more than 150 singers in all.

Bankston says the featured soloists — who typically remain on stage through the entire 90-minute performance — will instead enter and exit for various solos, duets, and ensembles. They include soprano Danielle Pastin, who last performed locally in 2016 as Desdemona in "Otello;" mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock, who portrayed "Carmen" in May and bass Nathan Stark, who appeared as the toreador Escamillo in "Carmen" last May.

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Tenor John Pickle, who has been seen in concert with the DPO, as Capt. Pinkerton in "Madame Butterfly" and most recently as the lead in "I Pagliacci" in 2016, says the DPAA's unique collaborative spirit makes Dayton a "space for artistic growth."

“I’ve performed this “Requiem” many times, I just did it in Barcelona in July,”says Pickle. “I’ve never seen it staged before. At the core, it’s a big, operatic, dramatic piece and when you add all of these theatrical elements, it will be even more powerful!”


What: "Verdi's Requiem," the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance Season Opening Spectacular,. Featuring the Dayton Opera, Dayton Philharmonic and Dayton Ballet.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17

Where: Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, downtown Dayton

Tickets: Tickets range from $28 to $94 and can be purchased through Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org.Senior, teacher and student discounts are available at the Schuster Center box office. For more information or to order subscriptions to the full 2017-2018 The Great Ones Season for Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, or Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, visit www.daytonperformingarts.org.

DPO conductor Neal Gittleman shares the back-story of Verdi’s “Requiem”

When Italian composer Gioachino Rossini died in 1868, Verdi came up with the idea of a “Mass for Rossini,” a grand setting of the Requiem liturgy in memory of the famous composer. It was to be performed on the one-year anniversary of Rossini’s death.

The catch — and there’s always a catch — was that Verdi wanted to draft all the top opera composers of the time and have each compose a movement. It was a great idea but was a messy project to pull off. He got 12 other composers to sign on and write movements.

The piece got written, but got caught up in Italian opera politics and the performance never happened. The “Messa per Rossini” was discovered in the 1970’s and finally had its premiere in 1988. It’s a cool piece, with some wonderful stuff — and some ordinary stuff. But the highlight is Verdi’s movement, the “Libera me” finale.

In 1873, when the great Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni died, Verdi reviewed the "write-a-requiem-for-the-first-anniversary" idea, but this time he determined not to involve anyone else. The result is the Verdi "Requiem" that we know and love.

And the “Libera me” of the Manzoni Requiem is essentially a revised version of the movement he’d written for the Rossini Requiem five years earlier, complete with the famous “Dies irae” music with wailing chorus and pounding bass drum — probably the most iconic moment of the whole piece. So the “fiasco” of the Rossini Mass wasn’t a total fiasco!

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