The Tucson Symphony Orchestra will close out the inaugural Tucson Desert Song Festival this weekend with arguably one of the greatest classical choral masterpieces ever composed.
It will be the first time the orchestra has performed Verdi's Requiem in nearly a decade. It's a work so enormous - the TSO will use a choir of 90 voices, four soloists and a full complement of the orchestra - that orchestras our size can only afford to tackle it every six or seven years, says TSO Music Director George Hanson.
With assistance from the Tucson Desert Song Festival, the TSO was able to bring in four big-name soloists, whose credentials include roles with Lyric Opera Chicago, the New York Metropolitan Opera and with orchestras around the country.
"To have four singers of this level, frankly, I don't think we've ever had that," Hanson said. "The combination of this repertoire, this orchestra and chorus and adding in four of the truly biggest young stars in the world is going to make this one of the most important musical events of the season and, frankly, beyond. Amber Wagner is among the top singers, particularly for Verdi, in this moment in the entire world."
Phoenix resident Wagner, a regular with Lyric Opera Chicago and the New York Metropolitan Opera, introduced herself to Tucson and the TSO last weekend with an inspiring performance of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder and Beethoven's "Abscheulicher!" (See the review at azstarnet.com/calientetunedin) She joins fellow Lyric Opera Chicago regular mezzo Jill Grove; tenor James Valenti, who has sung on opera stages around the world including London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden; and football-player-turned-opera-singer Morris Robinson, a bass who has sung with Lyric Opera Chicago and the Met.
"I think it's an extraordinary work because it takes one of the greatest creative talents of the last two centuries at the peak of his powers," Hanson said of Verdi's Requiem. "He gets the most extraordinary inspiration of his entire life. You take all of those factors - the death of a friend inspires the initial work and the death of a famous Italian much admired by Verdi becomes the catalyst for putting the piece together - and he takes all of his operatic skills and all of his orchestral pieces and he creates a masterpiece."
Verdi's operatic language separates his Requiem from those of his contemporaries, Hanson said. Some have gone as far as to call it Verdi's ecclesiastical opera, with dramatic aria-like moments. That's most notable during the "Libera me" finale when the soprano sings out "Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death ... when you will come to judge the world by fire."
"The final movement ... could be the greatest opera finale ever written," Hanson said. "Whether you want to talk about Mozart's 'Figaro' finale or a Wagnerian final scene, it has all the drama of that but in the context of religious services."
The last time the TSO performed the Verdi Requiem in 2004 it was to introduce the TSO Chorus, which was then in its infancy under the direction of Bruce Chamberlain.
If You Go
What: The inaugural Tucson Desert Song Festival, featuring renowned national vocalists performing with several Tucson arts organizations.
• When: Friday through Sunday.
• Where: Various venues throughout Tucson.
• Cost: Varies by organization.
• Details: www.tucsondesertsongfestival.org
• TSO and TSO Chorus present "Verdi's Requiem" with soprano Amber Wagner, mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, tenor James Valenti and bass Morris Robinson at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets: $26 to $79 through tickets.tucsonsymphony.org
• University of Arizona School of Music master classes and lectures through Saturday with the guest artists. Find times and details at music.arizona.edu/calendar
• Chamber Music Plus, Ballet Tucson and the Tucson Guitar Society team up for the world premiere of Tucson cellist and playwright Harry Clark's "Passionately, Piazzolla" featuring Argentinian guitarist and vocalist Brian Chambouleyron and actor Robert Beltran. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $40, $15 for students through chambermusicplus.org