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Fast and Furious

Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center
02/10/2017 -  & February 12, 15, 17, 18, 2017
Giuseppe Verdi: Messa da Requiem
Angela Meade (soprano), Sasha Cooke (alto), Alexey Dolgov (tenor), Peixin Chen (bass)
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Patrick Summers (conductor)

Soloists & HGO Chorus (© Lynn Lane )

On its surface, Houston Grand Opera’s high-throttle performances of Verdi’s Requiem makes for an engaging evening. Those looking for bold, brilliant choral and orchestral colors will find themselves handsomely served; however, those seeking nuance, individuality of interpretation, an evenly magnificent quartet of soloists, and some sense of more than just a concert performance of this are likely to be let down.

Logistic conflicts with Houston’s hosting of the Super Bowl led to the decision to mount Verdi’s mass, which seems like a very safe choice. Perhaps feeding off the city’s energy, Patrick Summers’ interpretive approach hinged almost entirely on speed. The big choral numbers had a patina of excitement chiefly due to amped up tempos, and in the Dies Irae this was effective. In the fugal numbers, however, listeners were simply unable to revel in Verdi’s contrapuntal wizardry. Especially at the start of the Sanctus, coordination between orchestra and chorus slipped and took a while to lock back in.

Summers seemed unwilling to linger on any of the work’s more tender moments, as well. A highlight for me is the dialogue between oboe and tenor late in the Dies Irae sequence (“Inter oves locum præsta”). This moment of dolce repose, beautifully played and sung, was simply brushed over by Summers, as if it had no special meaning.

Despite some apparent heath issues, Sasha Cooke was easily the standout of the solo quartet, as she was in the Houston Symphony’s recent performance of the work. At the “Judex ergo cum sedebit,” she projected powerfully over the orchestra without any rawness in her voice. Unfortunately, starting at the Recordare, she had to leave the stage several times, but seemed to recover in time for the Agnus Dei duet.

The other three soloists were strong at points in the piece. Angela Meade has a powerful, beautiful voice, but nerves got the better of her in high, soft passages. Alexey Dolgov’s voice became rawer as the piece progressed, and Peixin Chen, whose instrument has always been admirable for its heft, lacked multi-dimensionality in his singing. The Hostias sequence highlighted the mismatch of the four voices.

Small touches of stage direction—passages sung by memory, choir members sitting in preordained patterns—were effective but too few and far between.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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