Any performance of the Verdi Requiem is exciting enough, but this weekend's two concerts under the baton of Prof. Beverly Taylor, who is also the assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, offer the additional feature of being staged in the long-unused UW Stock Pavilion, once Madison's main venue for large concerts. In addition, Taylor will be leading four highly regarded soloists, the 200 singers of the UW Choral Union and the 90-piece UW Symphony Orchestra.
"Our performances fall just three weeks shy of the 125th anniversary of the work's premiere, which was May 22, 1874," Taylor observes, "and I'm especially thrilled to have the fantastic opportunity of doing it, both as a celebration of its long history and as a highlight of my four years at the UW." Taylor was recently tenured by the UW School of Music faculty. The Requiem commemorates the death in 1873 of the great Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, a loss that deeply affected Verdi, who revered the writer.
One reason for the choice of the Stock Pavilion is that the UW's Mills Concert Hall cannot accomodate such a massive performing ensemble. In addition, parking facilities near the Stock Pavilion have been improved in recent years. One of the main attractions is that the space has a reputation for having good acoustics. It's been so long since I heard a concert there that I don't clearly remember its acoustical qualities.
One thing that bodes well for the audience's ear poses a problem for their backsides. 200 folding chairs will be set up on the room's sawdust floor, but the remaining 700 seats are excellent sound reflectors: cold, hard concrete bleachers. Although some bleacher seats will be padded with carpet, it would be a good idea to bring a stadium seatpad if you have one.
Because Verdi is a paragon of Italian opera, but his Requiem is after all a mass for the dead, there has always been some controversy among conductors about how to balance the work's religious character with the outwardly dramatic, operatic nature of much of the score. Taylor's plan is to chart a middle course. "The scholar David Rosen's 1990 edition has resolved several long-standing conflicts about tempo markings," she notes, "and in fact for a late-Romantic works it offers many classical features, for instance in motivic development, phrase length, etc. These qualities tend to stabilize the drama."
The soloists are soprano Gale Limansky, mezzo Ilona Kombrink, tenor Francisco Casanova, and bass-baritone Mark S. Doss. The performances are at 8:00 p.m. Friday, April 30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1.
Isthmus, April, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson