Verdi’s Requiem opens at the Schuster Center on September 17

Photo: Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Dayton Ballet, and the Dayton Opera combine for Verdi’s Requiem

By Eric Street

Don’t be alarmed at the roar of tympani and bass drum downtown. That’s not an oncoming hurricane, it’s the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s percussion section warming up for two spectacular performances of Verdi’s Requiem, Saturday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m.. You can be part of the hair-raising exhilaration as the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance (DPAA) combines the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra (DPO), Dayton Opera, and Dayton Ballet to kick off their 2017-2018 Excite Season at the Schuster Center.

The leadership behind the performance shows no doubt about the enormous production. “As Producing Director,” says Thomas Bankston, “I always look forward to once again starting the season with our ‘Season Opening Spectacular,’ which over the last four seasons has brought the Opera, Ballet, and Philharmonic together in ‘spectacular’ ways. This year will be no exception as we bring a unique presentation of a masterwork that we usually only see in concert presentation, and that is of course, Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem.

Because Verdi’s amazing setting is a very dramatic and very operatic setting of the Latin liturgical Requiem Mass, it just seems to cry out for something more than the usual concert format, and more is what the combined forces of the DPAA are going to provide. With our dramatic realization of this work, we will enhance the impact of Verdi’s great vocal—both solo and choral—and orchestral writing by incorporating dramatic choreography and presentation of the vocal solos, ensembles, and choruses to create a uniquely impactful experience. The wonderful Dayton Ballet company with the inspired choreography of Karen Russo Burke, our dynamic solo quartet of Dayton Opera returning artists, the combined Dayton Opera and Philharmonic Choruses, and of course the magnificent Dayton Philharmonic led by Neal Gittleman, will combine for a Verdi Requiem like you’ve never seen or heard before.”

Choreographer and Dayton Ballet Artistic Director, Karen Russo Burke, is equally enthusiastic. “The music is so rich and emotional that it literally derives energy from it to form the dance. You would have thought that it was something intentional from the very beginning. The choreography is very expressionistic and evokes gestures from religion. I did a lot of research on many European companies that have danced to Requiems to see how they structured their works. Of course, my favorite was Jiri Kilian’s Soldiers’ Mass, composed by Bohuslav Martinu. The Verdi Requiem as a whole, as far as I know, has not been choreographed to before. Stuart Sebastian (Dayton Ballet’s Artistic Director in the ‘80s and early ‘90s) did use some segments of it for his Dracula. I am sure there are other choreographers who have also used some part of it as well in their work,” explains Burke.

When asked why audiences and musicians love the Verdi Requiem so intensely, DPO Artistic Director and Conductor, Neal Gittleman, has a ready answer. “First off, the amazing music. It’s some of the greatest music Verdi ever wrote, and that’s saying something. But beyond the beauty and majesty of the music, there’s its incredible emotional power. I think everyone loves this music, except maybe for the handful of musicians seated closest to the bass drum. That was me, as a freshman sitting at the back of the Yale Symphony first violin section, and I think my ears may still be ringing, 44 years later!” he laughs.

“Instead of a concert piece, as Verdi intended, or as a liturgical work, Thomas Bankston and Karen Russo Burke have reimagined it as a vast cosmic, yet human drama. Leave behind your preconceptions of Verdi, of requiems, of concerts, of opera, of ballet, of DPAA Season-Opening Spectaculars past and get ready to experience something entirely new and totally amazing!” concludes Gittleman.

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem is generally regarded as the most theatrical requiem ever composed—a powerful musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass for four soloists, double choir, and orchestra. Few works offer such lavish riches as Verdi’s Requiem: the drama of opera and the splendor of passionate symphonic writing enriched with stellar, virtuosic solos.

The vocal forces coming together to ignite this masterwork are impressive. Over 150 singers from the Dayton Opera Chorus (Jeffrey Powell, Chorus Master) and the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus (Hank Dahlman, Director of Choral Studies, WSU) will join ranks on stage to augment the 82 members of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra.

For the demanding solos, Dayton Opera has selected four guest artists who have proven themselves on the Mead Theatre Stage. Soprano Danielle Pastin returns to Dayton after singing Desdemona in the beautiful 2016 production of Otello. Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock returns after an electrifying performance in Carmen this past May. Tenor John Pickle graces the Mead Theatre stage for his sixth appearance, following his lead in I Pagliacci last October. Returning for his fifth time to Dayton Opera is bass Nathan Stark, who just this May stole Carmen’s heart as Escamillo, the dashing toreador in Carmen.

Even if Latin is not your language you won’t miss a word of this magnificent performance, since the Requiem will be sung in Latin with English surtitles.

To purchase single tickets to Dayton Performing Arts Alliance’s Season Opening Spectacular, Verdi’s Requiem, please call Ticket Center Stage at 937.228.3630. 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, please visit .daytonperformingarts.org.

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Eric Street
Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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