Beauty and power: A Verdi ‘Requiem’ for Allentown Symphony, Chorus, soloists, Muhlenberg College Choir
Verdi’s “Requiem” is a piece of mammoth proportions and power and stunning beauty.
Some people refer to it as Verdi’s concert opera, where the four vocal soloists sing aria-type solos contrasted with ensemble and chorus sections. It is some of his best musical writing and a piece that has, through the passing of the years, become even more beloved by all who hear it.
It is hard to put into words the genius of this music. The text is drawn from the Catholic “Funeral Mass” and takes us through various emotions from “Grant us eternal rest,” to “the day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes,” to “Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death.”
When the revered Italian poet, playwright and novelist Alessandro Manzoni died in 1873 at the age of 87, Verdi was deeply saddened and wanted to do something to commemorate his life since Manzoni’s writings had done so much to highlight Italy’s quest for freedom and national identity during the 19th century.
Verdi approached the mayor of Milan about commissioning a “Requiem Mass” to be performed on the one-year anniversary of Manzoni’s death. The mayor eagerly accepted.
Most of the music Verdi composed for the “Requiem” honoring Manzoni was new, but he did resurrect an earlier composition, the “Libera me,“ from a joint requiem project paying tribute to the death of the famous opera composer Gioachino Rossini. The “Rossini Requiem” project had 12 Italian composers slated to each compose one section of the “Requiem Mass.’
By the time the project was cancelled, Verdi had already completed his section, the “Libera me.” It remained in the vault of his publisher, Ricordi, until 1873 when he revived it and included it in the “Requiem” for Manzoni.
Giuseppe Verdi was not a religious man, and he did not write the “Requiem” as a religious piece so much as a grand tribute in music to his friend. The setting of the text, however, is very powerful and the impact of the music and the text is incredibly moving.
For the Allentown Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Verdi’s “Requiem,” 7:30 p.m. April 13 and 3 p.m. April 14, we will be featuring the Allentown Symphony Orchestra Chorus prepared by director Eduardo Azzati. Joining us will be the Muhlenberg College Choir prepared by director Dr. Christopher Jackson. For each of the two concerts, we will have more than 100 choir members on the stage along with all the members of the Allentown Symphony.
Three of our four vocal soloists have roots right here in the Lehigh Valley and it is so special for us to be able to showcase their fine talent.
Soprano Toni Marie Palmertree was born in Fleetwood, Berks County. She was a section leader for the Allentown Symphony Chorus before she went off to sing with the San Francisco Opera. She has won numerous awards and competitions and is a rising star in the opera world.
Mezzo-Soprano Patricia Risley graduated from Parkland High School, South Whitehall Township. She’s a frequent guest at the Metropolitan Opera where she made her debut as Tebaldo in “Don Carlo” and has returned for performances in “La Cenerentola,” “La Traviata,” “Gianni Schicchi” and “Carmen.” Additionally, she has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and has performed 13 roles with the company.
Bass Jeremy Galyon graduated from Liberty High School, Bethlehem. He made his San Francisco Opera debut as Count Horn in “A Masked Ball” and has performed in numerous operas there. He has been featured in productions at the Houston Grand Opera and Opera Theater of St. Louis. Recent orchestral engagements include performances with the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Tenor Kirk Dougherty is a rising star who has performed with the Opera San José, Opera Las Vegas, Knoxville Opera, Wichita Grand Opera, Piedmont, Utah Festival Opera and New Jersey Choral Society. This will be his Allentown Symphony debut.
With such a fabulous cast of soloists and the combined choirs of the Allentown Symphony and Muhlenberg College, the performances of the Verdi “Requiem” is something I am really looking forward to. The powerful sound of the full orchestra and the huge chorus is going to fill the hall like never before. You will want to be there to hear it live.
See you at the Symphony!
“Meet the Artist” with Allentown Symphony Music Director-Conductor Diane Wittry, Concert Conducting Fellow Michael Wittenberg and Concert soloists Toni Marie Palmertree, Patricia Risley, Jeremy Galyon and Kirk Dougherty, noon-1 p.m. April 12, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. The talk and question and answer session is free and open to the public. Bring a lunch to enjoy during the talk.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of The Garden State Philharmonic, New Jersey, and author of “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics.” She teaches conducting workshops throughout the United States and Europe.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, for those up to age 21, underwritten by the Century Fund, are available for Allentown Symphony Orchestra concerts.