As Music Director Nicola Luisotti and San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley revealed the day prior to the performance, all three hundred and twenty artists from Teatro San Carlo and the San Francisco Opera would communicate together using only the universal language of music.
The long awaited combined performance by two of the most important ensembles in Italy and the United States was a magnificent event, and every single seat in the War Memorial Opera House was full.
In celebration of the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth, the unprecedented performance of the choral masterpiece, the Messa da Requiem, on Friday, October 25, was offered as part of the worldwide Maestro Verdi anniversary and in recognition of the 2013 Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic.
In attendance at this unforgettable event were political and artistic dignitaries from both San Francisco and Naples, including Mayor of San Francisco, the Honorable Edwin Lee; Mayor of the city of Naples and president of Teatro San Carlo, the Honorable Luigi de Magistris; Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, the Honorable Mauro Battocchi; San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockely; and Director of Teatro di San Carlo, Rosanna Purchia.
Italian conductor Maestro Nicola Luisotti, the much-admired music director of both international companies, skillfully led the combined chorus and orchestra ensemble, joined by four vocal soloists and major operatic stars: soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, tenor Michael Fabiano, and bass Vitalij Kowaljow.
This performance follows the historic tradition of Italian opera in the United States over the last hundred years from great Maestros as Arturo Toscanini, Pietro Mascagni and Gaetano Merola, the Neapolitan conductor and pianist who founded the San Francisco Opera in 1923.
Son of a Neapolitan court violinist, the charismatic young Merola first came to San Francisco in 1906 and was quoted as saying: “If destiny wants me not to return to Italy, this is the place to settle down.”
Determined to start a permanent performance opera company here, he tirelessly cultivated sponsors from the city’s Italian community, and after a preliminary season of operas at the Standord Stadium in 1922, founded San Francisco Opera in 1923 at the Civic Auditorium. The War Memorial Opera House was opened in 1932. Commemorative plaques honoring both Merola and the founding sponsors from the Italian-American Community are located on the south side of the main foyer.
As remembered by Vincenzo di Vivo, artistic director of Teatro San Carlo, the first opera tour ever was organized in Naples in 1822 by the impresario Domenico Barbaia to Vienna. Today, Teatro San Carlo is touring throughout the world.
Verdi’s Messa da Requiem premiered in May 1874 in San Marco, Milan, and was composed to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, the celebrated Italian writer and one of the leaders of the Italian Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement. Verdi himself conducted the world premiere of one hundred twenty chorus singers and an orchestra of one hundred musicians. The work was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and quickly performed in the world’s leading music capitals, all to critical and popular acclaim. Verdi’s Requiem is set in seven movements: Requiem and Kyrie, Dies Irae, Offertorio, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Lux aeterna, and Libera me.
This concert was the largest assemblage of performing artists on the War Memorial Opera House stage, hosting one conductor, four soloists, 161 choristers, 146 orchestra members, from which 81 from the San Francisco Opera and 65 from Teatro San Carlo.
San Francisco Opera Concertmaster Kay Stern officially serves as the concertmaster for the concert, however after the Dies Irae, all principal string players switched places as a symbolic gesture of the two orchestras playing as one.
The first time the Dies Irae was sung with the power of the impressive chorus and collective orchestra under the direction of Nicola Luisotti it was truly incredible as the audience collectively gasped.
The combination of the Teatro San Carlo and San Francisco Opera together created a sound that sliced through the audience and hit with a profound strength, making the musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass an eternal piece for the celebration of life.
The Verdi Requiem was made possible, in part, by The Bernard Osher Endowment Fund, the Consulate General of Italy, the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco and COMITES of San Francisco Nicola Luisotti’s appearance made possible by Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, Chairs, Amici di Nicola of Camerata. Mr. Kowaljow’s appearance was made possible by a gift to the Great Singers Fund by Joan and David Traitel.