The Times, September 2, 2012
Richard Morrison
Verdi: Messa da Requiem, Luzern, 29. August 2012
Messa da Requiem, Lucerne
5 stars
Faith is the theme of this summer’s Lucerne Festival. But it didn’t require a great leap of it to make the journey for this performance of Verdi’s Requiem. If you were to devise a dream casting for this most theatrical of sacred masterpieces you might well come up with Anja Harteros, Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann and René Pape, plus the Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan, under their current maestro, Daniel Barenboim.

I would love to know how much the Swiss paid to bring that lot together, even for one night. My back-of-the- programme calculation suggests little change out of £200,000. But with Lucerne’s punters prepared to pay up to £215 a ticket (and pay night after night for more than a month), this is a festival that can demand and get the best.

And I was blown away by this Requiem. One could quibble about the melodramatic gaps that Barenboim inserted, particularly in the Dies Irae, or his way of lurching quite literally into the faces of his soloists to impose on them not only his general view of the work, but also a highly romanticised, note-by-note articulation as well. But when one’s spine is tingling almost continuously for 90 minutes, quibbles simply don’t register.

Highlights? Kaufmann’s first entry was like an erupting volcano. Garanca was as mesmerising, floating creamy legatos while mustering a thrilling chest voice that I never thought she possessed. Harteros, looking like a distressed pre-Raphaelite beauty, turned the final movement into the most sublime death scene never to appear in an opera. And that incredible chorus, with their barrel-voiced basses and wonderfully hammy rolled consonants and gasped aspirates, hurled out the apocalyptic moments as if determined to blast the roof off Jean Nouvel’s concert-hall.
Add the loudest bass-drum player in the world and you will understand why I’m still reeling. The festival continues for another fortnight.


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