Requiem for a pandemic

The COC/AtG film of Mozart’s Requiem is now available for viewing. It’s free but requires either registration with AtG or a (free) COC digital membership.  Directed by Joel Ivany, it’s essentially cast as a reflection on what we lost during the pandemic and as a statement of hope as, maybe, we reach the end.

1.stage

Structurally what we get are the sections of the mass, appropriately distributed between the quartet of soloists, plus the COC chorus and orchestra interspersed with short personal statements by the soloists of their thoughts over the last year.  The musical sections are mainly filmed in the Four Seasons Centre in quite a conventional way with the soloists in front of the orchestra and chorus on stage with a big video screen at the back.  The video is (mostly) of the soloists on a beach between cliffs and a lake lip synching to the music.  The film cuts back and forth between the FSC and the beach.  There’s also a little bit of business with light globes in the theatre but the most moving part is saved for last.  All the participants leave a personal message on the back of an auditorium seat and the camera pans back to show all 2200 seats thus decorated.  I thought it did what it set out to do though doubtless there will be those who dismiss it, not entirely unreasonably, as Joel Ivany at his most sentimental

2.forest

The music making is very good.  It’s a nicely balanced quartet of soloists.  Midori Marsh sings exceptionally sweetly and sounds as good as I have ever heard her.  She contrasts very nicely with the darker, more mature mezzo of Marion Newman.  Likewise, Andrew Haji’s bright, almost heroic, tenor works really well with Vartan Gabrielian’s sepulchral baritone.  As a foursome they sound very good indeed.  The COC orchestra and chorus are up to their usual very high standard.  Johannes Debus’ view of the piece as essentially a dramatic work is obvious in his conducting.

3.thems

Technically the film directed by Taylor Long is excellent.  The only issues I had were some glitches on the sound which I strongly suspect had more to do with my ISP than the film itself.

4.message

Overall, as pandemic webstreams go it’s pretty good and I think a lot has been learned since the first faltering steps in getting content on-line.  I did find myself though viewing it in a very different way than similar efforts a year ago.  Back then no-one knew how long it would be before any of us saw a live performance again and streams were what we had.  There was also a lot of speculation about how learning to create during the pandemic would influence the future of opera production and even the governance of opera companies and that led, for a while, to interesting discussions.  Now it’s different.  There are live performances to be had and it’s clear to me that the very best film is not a substitute. Even watching five guys in a small church making music trumps the most razzly dazzly film.  I don’t feel especially optimistic about a brave new world of inclusivity and relevance in the opera world generally either.  Nothing I’ve seen in Europe or North America seems to presage much in the way of change.  Rather the financial impacts of COVID seem to have produced a “safety first” reaction in which the COC’s “return to live” line up is but one disappointment.

5.beach

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