DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

VERDI: Requiem, Blu-ray (2012)

An excellent chance to sample the rare acoustics of St. Marks in Venice, and a performance that lives up to the venue.

Published on February 2, 2013

VERDI: Requiem, Blu-ray (2012)

Norma Fantini (soprano)/ Anna Smirnova (mezzo-soprano)/ Francesco Meli (tenor)/ Rafal Siwek (bass)/ Chorus of he Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/ Symphonica Toscanini/ Lorin Maazel
Director: Titziano Mancini
Producer: Katharina Wagner
Studio: Unitel Classica 2072434 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1080i Full HD 16:9 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Latin
All Regions
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: ****

It should come as no surprise that a venue like St. Mark’s Venice be chosen to present Verdi’s gargantuan opus; after all, it was originally premiered at St. Mark’s Milan, not quite as impressive as the current locale but no slouch either. So I was looking forward to hearing (and watching) this performance, the first I have seen in a cathedral since Leonard Bernstein’s video of some years back.

The venue is not that great; not that this performance doesn’t measure up—it does—but the things that you think such an enormous and acoustical marvel would bring out in this work, with all of its antiphonal moments and surround sound potential, just don’t happen. The famous brass passages at the beginning of the “Dies irae” never materialize in terms of special magnificence, just like any other stereo recording. I have heard other surround sound recordings that take much better advantage even in a studio. And if you might guess that this vast space sucks up a lot of sound and covers up detail, you would be right—there is a lot that gets covered up, and it is interesting to watch Maazel conducting in certain spots in order to assuage this problem. So from a sound standpoint, though it is clear as a bell and brilliantly wrought, much of what I was hoping for did not materialize. [Too bad, since the Venice St. Marks is considered the birthplace of spatial music…But oh that gold leaf everywhere…Ed.]

Visually it is all you could want—lots of pans and zooms that focus on the beauty and incredible artistic monuments of the cathedral, brazed in a gold hue throughout and well-covered by the camera. Maazel is also covered well but not too extensively, and we get fine coverage of the orchestra at points that make sense with the music. It is in all respects a well-done video.

The performance is quite standard, nothing revelatory, but solidly functional and perfectly balanced, with a choir of soloists who prove quite outstanding in every regard. While I can’t say that the chorus is the best I have ever heard—Shaw’s Atlanta takes that trophy—they are very good and fully up to the requirements of the piece. The Symphonica Toscanini is an orchestra similar to the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, founded by Maazel himself, and play with precision and excellent tonal allure. If you are looking for a video recording of this piece, this one will fit the bill.

—Steven Ritter

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