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Classical 101

The Met Remembers 9/11

Inside the Metropolitan Opera House
The Metropolitan Opera House

The Metropolitan Opera presents Verdi’s Requiem on September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

This will be the first performance given in the Metropolitan Opera house since the pandemic forced shutdown in March of 2020.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts the Met Orchestra and Chorus. The soloists are soprano Ailyn Perez, mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, tenor Matthew Polenzani, and bass Eric Owens.

Families of those lost on 9/11 and first responders from that day will attend the performance at no cost, while tickets for the public are priced at $25.00. The performance will air live on PBS and be carried locally on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. on WOSU TV.

From the Met’s website:

Audiences in New York City and beyond will also be able to see and hear live transmissions of Verdi’s Requiem: The Met Remembers 9/11. The performance will be transmitted live as part of Great Performances on PBS, with ballet star Misty Copeland hosting the program from nearby the site of the 9/11 Museum. Live audio from the performance will also be broadcast directly outside the Met in Lincoln Center Plaza. As part of a citywide remembrance, the Met will be participating in the 9/11 Tribute in Light, bathing its façade in sky-blue light. The English-language text of the Requiem will also be projected onto the façade of the opera house during the performance.

Musical settings of the Latin mass for the dead go back to Ambrosian chant one thousand years ago. If you want music that puts its arms around you in comfort, Faure’s Requiem will suit nicely. If you want pure beauty, the Brahms setting in German will suffice. (Brahms uses the Protestant bible in German.) Mozart’s Requiem will have you in tears for his struggle to finish the work on his deathbed.

For a musical setting that combines beauty, passion, fire and a touch of anger, Giuseppe Verdi’s Manzoni Requiem is for you.

Rex tremendae majestatis. God the kind – tremendous, majestic and terrible. Listen to the repeated cries of Salva me, fons pietatis! Save me, fountain of pity.

(That’s Columbus’s own Genie Grunewald singing the mezzo solo)

Giuseppe Verdi (1812-1901) was the composer of twenty-six operas, among them La traviata, Rigoletto and Aida. There is no Italian opera composer more admired to this day. It’s no surprise that Verdi’s setting of the requiem texts would be grandly operatic. The work requires four large-voiced soloists who are required to sing with both power and delicacy at the same time. A large chorus, plenty of brass and a big orchestra. This Requiem doesn’t hug you. This Requiem storms the heavens, shakes its fist at God and finishes with a whisper.

Verdi described himself as anticlerical. He wrote, “At the end, I need neither priest, bell nor candle.” His state funeral in Milan got him that…and a lot more!

It was to memorialize the Italian writer and patriot Alessandro Manzoni that Verdi wrote this Requiem in 1874. “Manzoni is the man I revere above all others,” wrote Verdi. Ironically, the elderly Manzoni died on the steps of the Milan Cathedral while leaving Mass.

The Metropolitan Opera first performed the Requiem a few weeks after Verdi’s death. The performance of February 17, 1901, was reported in the Brooklyn Eagle:

On Sunday evening, Verdi's Requiem was sung for the first time in the Opera House to an audience that crowded the standing space until the doors were fastened back and dozens of men stood in the foyer listening to the softly flowing melodies, which represent the richest period of Verdi's achievement.

The soloists on that occasion included Lily Ann Norton from Maine--known professionally as Lillian Nordica, and mezzo Ernest Schumann-Heink, who in her youth had been admired by Brahms. With tenor Thomas Salignac, bass Pol Plancon and conductor Luigi Mancinelli, all five had performed Verdi’s operas in the composer’s presence.

Since that first performance in 1901 the Met has performed the Requiem over sixty times. During World War II it was presented during Holy Week. Most poignantly in living memory, there were two performances in 1964 in memory of John F. Kennedy. Sir Georg Solti conducted and the soloists included Leontyne Price and Carlo Bergonzi.

In 2008, James Levine conducted the Verdi Requiem at the Met in memory of tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

For a nation reeling from Covid, Afghanistan and political wars, struggling still to process what happened to us twenty years ago, there are no easy answers. Maybe no answers at all. There is music. There is comfort, solace and anger.

Watch the Verdi Requiem on WOSU TV live from the Met at 8 p.m.on 9/11/21.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.