Verdi may have been an atheist but his musical drama of damnation and redemption sounds as if he believed every word of the sacred text.
Sir Antonio Pappano conducts it as if he does too. Verdi wanted four “distant and invisible” trumpets to herald the Day of Judgment and Pappano obliged by placing them on high at the back of the hall – a brilliant theatrical touch.
The Dies Irae thundered out aided by a wonderfully vehement timpanist, obviously moonlighting from his day job beating time for the galley slaves in Ben Hur. There was terror and magnificence but consolation too, as in the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia’s warm and burnished string playing (violins properly divided left and right) for the hushed opening bars. The Academy’s chorus was strong in all registers from the basses in Rex tremendae, to a soprano section replete with fresh young voices.
The vocal quartet blended well as a team and their solo contributions were outstanding. Whatever sins tenor Joseph Calleja may have committed, all he’ll have to do is sing Ingemisco and the Hostias as he did here and St Peter will fling open the pearly gates for him. Carlo Colombara was a rock-solid bass, sounding rightly awed and stunned in Mors stupebit, while soprano Hibla Gerzmaya encompassed the demanding Libera me without strain.
Sylvie Brunet Grupposo (replacing the indisposed Ekaterina Semenchuk) was magnificent: a singer with a true contralto chest register matched by cleanly attacked high notes, who brought the text to life.