MESSA DI GLORIA: Puccini and Pergolesi

Date and Venue 21 March 2008 @ 8pm | Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver

Vancouver Chamber Choir with Luc Robert tenor, Olivier Laquerre, bass-baritone; Trinity Western University Choir and Chamber Choir; Vancouver Chamber Orchestra; and Jon Washburn, conducting.

Reviewer Ed Farolan

Good Friday is the saddest day of the year for practicing Christians around the world, and in the Catholic tradition, religious processions, whether in church or in the streets, are a common spectacle. The Passion Play is a tradition in Europe (Oberammergau in Germany, autos sacramentales in Spain, etc.) Here, in Vancouver, every year, the VCC under the directorship of Jon Washburn, has the same tradition of presenting an Easter programme which, this year, combines the Good Friday processional ritual with Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and the celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead, with Puccini's Messa di Gloria.

Giovani Batista Pergolesi (1710-36), in his short public career, devoted himself to producing operas and oratorios in Naples. His last composition was Stabat Mater, a poem ascribed to 13th century Umbrian friar Jacopone di Todi, picturing Mother Mary at the foot of the cross as she contemplates her sorrows.

Pergolesi breaks down the poem into 12 movements, intended for two soloists, but Woshburn, in this programme, uses a configuration of chorus, semi-chorus and solos. With that distinct Baroque sorrowful quality, the piece was sung beautifully first by the full chorus, followed, in the next 11 movements, with alternating solo arias by sopranos Emily Cheung, Lorraine Reinhardt and Natasha Neufeld, altos Grace Chan and Marla Mayson, the semi-chorus, and the finale, Quando corpus morietur with the full chorus.

After the intermission, Messa di Gloria by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), the main event, was again magnificently delivered, this time, combining the VCC chorus with the Trinity Western University Choirs and guest artists Luc Robert and Olivier Laquerre. Puccini was only 22 when this piece was performed in Lucca. The composition follows the order of the Catholic High Mass, as it was originally intended, starting with the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus and ending with the Agnus Dei. I was impressed by Luc Robert's voice, so much like Placido Domingo. The duet at the end, with Laquerre, as they sang the Agnus Dei, was a masterpiece.

Puccini's music is so expressive, as we know from his later operas, and one could tell from this early composition that he was a man destined for operatic triumphs. This was indeed an evening to remember, and from an aesthetic standpoint, an uplifitng of the soul.

© 2008 Ed Farolan