Verdi’s Requiem is one of the most loved works in this format, a Catholic mass for the dead, which has been used as the basis for musical composition since the 15th century. There are many that come to mind immediately; Mozart is usually first (they made a movie about it!), Faure, Brahms, and now the more modern versions by Britten and our own Deborah Cheetham. I work at the MSO and my job is the Operations and Chorus Coordinator. I thought I would give you an insight into the process of preparing a concert of this scale from the perspective of the Chorus. I am a former member of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus. I sung in four programs, three of which were requiems, one of which was the Verdi. I am by no means an expert though, there are members of the MSO Chorus who have been singing alongside the MSO since the 1980’s!
We currently have 170 semi-professional singers who donate their time to sing in this ensemble. And they love it. Our Chorus Director is Warren Trevelyan-Jones, himself an accomplished singer before he became a conductor, and Warren was at the helm the last time the MSO performed this work, as were many of the singers performing it this time.
The piece itself is a joy for the Chorus. A symphonic chorus, like the MSO Chorus, can often be left out of the spotlight, adding texture and colour, ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ here and there but not in Verdi’s Requiem. Verdi was an opera composer, he knew what to do with the human voice. He pushes the singers to the edge at times but not in the same way as Beethoven does in his Symphony No. 9, Ode to Joy, it’s not a marathon. Verdi gives the Chorus numerous moments to shine from the whispered opening, the powerful Dies Irae, the double choral fugue in the Sanctus, and many, many beautiful cadences throughout the work. There are four soloists in this piece but there is a wonderful sense of the soloists and chorus being together, working as a team to create a cohesive sound.
The journey for this piece began back in August. I received a message from our librarian, Luke, telling me that the scores had arrived - and they weighed 52 kilograms! And that was only 100 copies, we had 131 singers signed up for the first rehearsal of this work.