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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles


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COC Verdi Requiem a Memorable Musical Experience

By Joseph So October 14, 2001

Eszter Sumegi
Eszter Sumegi, soprano
Alina Gurina, mezzo-soprano
Daniil Shtoda, tenor
Robert Pomakov, bass
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus
Richard Bradshaw, conductor
Sandra Horst, Chorus Master
George Weston Recital Hall
Tuesday, October 9, 2001

With the tragic events of the New York World Trade Centre still very much in everyone's mind, this performance of Verdi Requiem by the Canadian Opera Company on Tuesday evening took on a special air of poignancy. The performance was dedicated to the victims of the tragedy and to all victims of hatred around the world. The program note also made special mention of the attendance of the Consul General of the United States and members of his staff.

Daniil Shtoda
Musically, this performance of the Verdi Requiem was one of the most satisfying in recent memory, eclipsing even the excellent concert of the same work by the Canadian Opera five years ago. This time around, we have a quartet of excellent soloists, without a weak link. Freed from the acoustic wasteland of the Hummingbird Centre, one could really appreciate the fine playing of the orchestra. Conductor Richard Bradshaw opted for a brisk tempo, which had a tendency to sound rushed in spots, but it was undeniably exciting in the more dramatic moments.

Arguably the most operatic of requiems ever written, this work demands great solo singing, and the audience was not disappointed. The women were superb. Eszter Sumegi, known to Toronto audiences in Puccini's La Boheme and Il Tabarro, proved to be an excellent Verdi singer. The voice is big and rich, with nice gleaming tone and long breath line. Her big moment came in the taxing Libera Me. Whether it was in the opening cry of "Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna", which had a real sense of urgency, or in the hushed, Andante section, Sumegi sang with consistent beauty of tone. The dolce B-flat, which she swelled in a crescendo, was nicely done. In the high-power Finale, her voice rang out thrillingly over a heavy orchestra and chorus. On balance, Sumegi surpassed the lovely Marina Mescheriakova five years ago, who had the more impressive pianissimi, but was weaker in the middle and lower voice.

Alina Gurina
Alina Gurina, sensational as Santuzza, has a unique and powerful voice with an interesting timbre. Every inch the diva, Gurina generates excitement whenever she is onstage. Impeccably coiffed and magnificently gowned, she sang with the greatest intensity and commitment of any of the four singers, with a generous use of impressive chest voice. Despite fleeting moments of flatness in her upper middle voice, her solo singing in Agnus Dei and Lux Aeterna were very fine. The two women, with voices of very different timbre, managed to sing a very nicely blended, very moving Recordare.

The men are equally impressive. I was most curious about the Russian tenor Daniil Shtoda, who came second to Isabel Bayrakdarian at Operalia 2000. Shtoda is also a mellifluous Fenton in the newly released Claudio Abbado Falstaff on Deutsche Grammophon. Here, Shtoda revealed a voice of modest size but beautiful tone, which he used with elegance and taste. He sang with a nice legato line, but one wishes for more a more hushed quality in the opening lines of Hostias et preces tibi or more dolce in the climactic B-flat that ends Ingemisco. Given his youth, one can expect great things to come from Mr. Shtoda. Last but definitely not least was Robert Pomakov, whose bass is arguably the most impressive natural instrument among an excellent crop of young Canadians today. His voice is made for this work and he certainly lived up to expectations. He gave his all in his solo, though he would be wise to not push his voice too much at climaxes. Kudos to the always-excellent chorus master Sandra Horst, who worked wonders with the smallish COC Chorus, making it sounding big and rich. The orchestra, minus the wonderful principal cello Bryan Epperson due to injury, sounded great. It was nice to see the performance capped by prolonged, repeated standing ovations, something one almost never see when these forces are at the Hummingbird.

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