The Grange Festival’s first season sees it complement its main opera productions with two one-off concerts. One is an evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein (and Hart) classics with the John Wilson Orchestra and the other is a full performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. On the surface, an afternoon spent dressing up in idyllic surroundings enjoying good food and champagne may not seem conducive to hearing about the perils that lie in store on the Day of Judgment. In the event, however, the beauty of the occasion was the opportunity to experience something so completely different to the ‘norm’ at a summer opera festival.
Looked at another way, however, the piece is actually an excellent fit for the setting as it is the most theatrical of all of the major requiems. This is because Verdi, who privately at least had no religious conviction by the time that he wrote it, focuses less on the needs of the departed souls than on raging against the fading light. If the opportunity to hear it at The Grange Festival constituted an entirely new experience for the summer opera-goer, it also enabled the piece to be heard in a completely different way.
In a venue as intimate as The Grange one can imagine being totally overwhelmed by the sheer power of this magnificent work. However, while the performance could hardly be described as underpowered, things actually worked the other way around. Because the performers did not need to worry about asserting the sound to reach the back of the gallery in the Albert Hall they could focus far more on the detail. In this respect, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Francesco Cilluffo, produced a very balanced sound, in which it was far easier to delineate individual lines than it is when one feels bombarded by the piece in a larger venue. By doing this, the piece could breathe and resonate in a way that is not achieved when it is presented on a bigger scale.
The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and The Grange Festival Chorus produced some excellent singing and, as with the orchestra, the sound was thoughtful and frequently sensitive. Although the singers can take the credit for it being so, things were helped by them being situated behind the orchestra at the back of the stage. When it is covered with scenery it is hard to appreciate just how deep the performance area runs but the roof overhead both contained and channelled the sound. If anything it meant that the very beginning of each ‘Dies irae’ section felt a little muffled until all of the voices came in, but when they did, and at many other points over the performance, we were met with exactly the type of power that is to be craved. Indeed, when during ‘Tuba mirum spargens sonum’ some brass was placed in the balcony boxes it was hard to picture the sound feeling any more all-embracing.
The soloists were very strong and if at the start of each half (in true summer opera fashion the performance included an interval for picnics) they took a few minutes to adjust their sounds to meet the acoustic, by and large their voices worked very well together. Vlada Borovko’s soprano blended perfectly with Lucia Cervoni’s mezzo-soprano in ‘Recordare, Jesu pie’ while Leonardo Capalbo’s tenor and Jongmin Park’s bass were both characterised by strength, security and aesthetically pleasing sounds in their respective ranges.
It was both enjoyable and worthwhile to experience Verdi’s Requiem in this way and it would be good to see The Grange Festival continue to introduce events that are a little different to the norm over the seasons to come.
For details of all events in its 2017 season visit The Grange Festival website.