When the final notes of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece “Requiem” finished echoing through Milan’s San Marco church, ringing around the high-vaulted ceiling and rattling the baroque chandelier, there was an uncomfortable silence.
“This was a setting where you weren’t allowed to applaud at the end,” said Kanwal Sumnani, a third-year psychology student and chorus manager of the UCLA Choral Union. “The piece received a lot of criticism from the Catholic church for adding flair to a liturgical text.”
Sumnani said Verdi’s “Requiem” is highly operatic compared with the other notable requiems of classical music, namely those of Mozart and Brahms.
“That makes his very dramatic and very emotional,” Sumnani said.
Verdi decided to compose “Requiem” as a commemoration of Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, Sumnani said. One year after Manzoni’s death in 1873, “Requiem” was performed at his memorial service.
The piece will be performed Saturday by the UCLA Choral Union and UCLA Philharmonia in Royce Hall.
“The Verdi ‘Requiem’ is one of the most powerful sacred works in the whole repertoire,” said music professor Neal Stulberg, director of orchestral studies at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music and conductor of the UCLA Philharmonia. “The emotional arc of the work is enormous, from the most intimate and tender expressions, to music of such vehemence and decibel that the floor literally shakes.”
But despite its pedigree, Stulberg said the iconic piece hasn’t been heard on campus in over a decade.
“‘Requiem’ is performed frequently on concert stages across the world,” Stulberg said. “So we thought it was time to present it again here.”
Stulberg said all four of the vocal soloists singing Saturday night are UCLA graduate students and alumni.
“The solo parts are extremely demanding and require very mature voices,” Stulberg said. “We have these kinds of voices among us, and it’s the best thing when we can feature them.”
Along with current graduate students mezzo-soprano Julia Metzler and bass Ben Lowe, UCLA alumni are represented by tenor Joshua Guerrero and soprano Tracy Cox. Cox, a former student of world-renowned tenor Placido Domingo during her time at the LA Opera and winner of the 2013 Birgit Nilsson Prize at the international Operalia opera competition, will take the stage as a soloist to tackle for the first time what she said is one of the most difficult parts in classical music.
Cox said the length and taxing quality of “Requiem” makes for special preparation – she thinks of it like a marathon.
“I would definitely say I’m nervous,” Cox said. “It’s a stressful piece, but I’m happy I’ll be doing it for my UCLA family.”
Cox said the opera program at UCLA has managed to attract a world-class faculty, and has prepared her well for her professional career.
“No one that I know got the same kind of performance experience from their college training as I did,” Cox said. “I’m really very proud to have been a Bruin.”