Cathedral as viewed from above the sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer)
HARTFORD – It was an unforgettable evening of triumphs as more than 400 singers and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Edward Bolkovac, performed Giuseppe Verdi’s brilliant Messa da Requiem at a packed Cathedral of St. Joseph March 16.
The 90-minute performance was presented as part of the Sacred Sounds Concert Series and held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the cathedral.
Billed as the largest-scale production ever performed in the cathedral, the incomparable Requiem featured the combined forces of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra; four soloists; and a massive choral force from the Hartt School choirs, Hartford Chorale, New Haven Chorale and Cathedral Choir.
It drew close to 2,000 people in the sanctuary, pews and choir loft.
"It was wonderful," said Joseph Mulready, a former professor of composition and theory at the Hartt School of Music, where he now serves on the board. "I think they caught the essence of the drama and spirituality of the piece.
"I was here at the cathedral in 1973 when Moshe Paranov [co-founder of the Hartt School] conducted it," said Mr. Mulready, who still remembers the new cathedral’s being built after a fire destroyed the first St. Joseph’s in 1956.
"It’s really an opera that is not acted out … not a liturgical piece of music," he said. "It’s one of the half-dozen great requiems, but this is the most theatrical of them."
The catalyst for the celebratory performance is Dr. Ezequiel Menéndez, the music director for the Cathedral of St. Joseph since 1998 and the founder of the acclaimed Sacred Sounds series.
"People were very moved," he said, not only by the large force of performers but also by having sacred music performed in a cathedral "that inspires them to think about religion.
"It’s appropriate to have this in the cathedral because, after all, it’s a Mass and it’s Lent," he said.
Before the Requiem, Dr. Menéndez played César Franck’s Trois Chorals, Choral No. 3 in A minor, on the 8,000-plus pipe Austin organ.
Soloists for the performance were Amanda Hall, soprano; Lucille Beer, mezzo-soprano; Raffaele Sepe, tenor; and Ryan Green, bass.
Watson Morrison, professor of piano emeritus at the Hartt School of Music, had high praise for conductor Bolkovac. "This was Ed’s masterpiece, without a doubt.
"I don’t think there are many schools that can do what they did," he said, in terms of resources, number of voices and talent. "New York, Philadelphia … you could go all over but you couldn’t find anything better than this."
Regarded as Verdi’s masterpiece, the brilliant score was composed as a choral-orchestra setting for the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead.
In a letter to the audience, Mr. Bolkovac explained that in the Requiem, "Verdi portrays mankind’s struggle with mortality, salvation and spirituality."
"Whether one views the work purely from a musical, specifically religious, or generically spiritual standpoint," he writes, "the Requiem is capable of challenging us to think about our own lives, the ephemeral nature of life, and our own spirituality."
The Requiem was first performed in 1874 in Milan.
A concert at the cathedral on March 11 started events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral.