Verdi Requiem, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, 17 April 2002
An Inspired Verdi Requiem From a Conductor Who Got Away, New York Times, 24 April 2002
Music New York: Bring your own gag, The Financial Times, 19 April 2002
Muti leads Verdi Requiem at NY Philharmonic, Associated Press, 18 April 2002
Muti Masters Balancing Act On Verdi Piece, New York Daily News, 22 April 2002
Are Italians the only ones who can do justice to Verdi's Requiem?, New York Magazine, 6 May 2002
An Inspired Verdi Requiem From a Conductor Who Got Away
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 24 April 2002
Surely, after the magnificent performance of the Verdi Requiem that the
conductor Riccardo Muti inspired from the New York Philharmonic, the
impressive Westminster Symphonic Choir and a splendid quartet of vocal
soloists, many members of the audience and the orchestra must have gone
home thinking about what might have been.
Long before the name of Lorin Maazel was even mentioned as a possible
successor to Kurt Masur at the Philharmonic, Mr. Muti was thought to
have the inside track. He took himself out of the running, citing his
desire to remain as music director of La Scala Opera in Milan.
It was probably the right decision. At this stage it is understandable
that Mr. Muti, who is 60, wants to concentrate on the operatic and
symphonic repertory he feels most strongly about. Why take on a job
where he would be expected, fairly, to attract young audiences and form
relationships with American composers? But the things he does well, he
does extraordinarily well, like conducting Verdi.
The great achievement of the performance last Wednesday was the way Mr.
Muti made the volatile mood swings of this music come alive while never
losing a sense of its overall shape and compositional integrity. The
descending cello motive with which the piece begins was played with such
rapt softness that it seemed like something sounding inside your head.
The violins shaped the opening theme with aching sadness as the chorus,
sounding truly bereft, uttered the word "Requiem."
As the music gained momentum, the sighing choral melodies and the
stirring proclamations of the soloists emerged with inevitability. Even
the hellish frenzy Mr. Muti wrought in the "Dies Irae," taken at a
dangerously fast tempo, with raucous brass outbursts and pummeling
percussion, seemed a shattering yet unavoidable turn in this emotional
Throughout the performance you could tell that the Philharmonic
musicians knew what a high level of playing Mr. Muti was eliciting from
them. He also drew superb singing from the vocalists. Since her 1995
Metropolitan Opera debut as a sweet-voiced Italian lyric soprano,
Barbara Frittoli has grown into a radiant lirico spinto. She could be
the Verdi soprano we have been waiting for.
The great mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana sang with vocal richness and
magisterial artistry. The tenor Giuseppe Sabbatini exemplified
Italianate style and ardor. The bass Samuel Ramey sang with chilling
power. When on judgment day, some ominous voice from the beyond consigns
all sinners to "flames of woe unbounded," as the requiem text states,
surely that voice will sound like Mr. Ramey's. The choristers, directed
by Joseph Flummerfelt, had a winning combination of youthful energy and
The performance lost some degree of definition and inexorability in the
later sections. My guess is that Mr. Muti, a perfectionist, may have
spent most of the rehearsal time on detailed shaping of the work's first
half. Still, it was a great night for the Philharmonic.
Music New York: Bring your own gag
Martin Bernheimer, The Financial Times, 19 April 2002
[...] If Il Barbiere at the Met seemed essentially ridiculous, the Verdi
Requiem two days later at Avery Fisher Hall came ridiculously close to
sublime. The primary credit belonged to Riccardo Muti, who led a
performance notable for heroic fervor, lyrical pathos, unyielding
tension and daring contrasts. The fortississimo outbursts really
thundered, the pianississimo indulgences really whispered. The agitated
cries flew with almost reckless speed, and the leisurely utterances
moved with spacious gravity. Yet Muti invariably found organic links
between the extremes. Nothing seemed forced, nothing exaggerated.
The New York Philharmonic, obviously inspired by the Italian guest on
the podium, played like the great orchestra it can be but seldom is. The
Westminster Symphonic Choir kept emotive pace much of the time. And a
well-balanced vocal quartet performed as if lives were at stake.
Barbara Frittoli soared fearlessly and poignantly over the hurdles of
the soprano part. Giuseppe Sabbatini's bel-canto tenor rose valiantly to
the great climax of Ingemisco and floated the legato phrases of Hostias
with exquisite poise and point. Violeta Urmana brought uncommon clarity,
brightness and ease to the mezzo-soprano solos. Samuel Ramey's plangent
basso may have turned a bit unsteady under pressure, but his expressive
nobility and dynamic sensitivity remain undiminished.
Muti leads Verdi Requiem at NY Philharmonic
Ronald Blum, Associated Press, 18 April 2002
NEW YORK -- A horn rang out from the first tier in the front of the
house. Then some more rang out from the opposite corner in the back.
Back and forth, they talked to each other, the playing getting more and
more dramatic and intense. The effect was thrilling.
Riccardo Muti, at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, led an electric
version of Verdi's Requiem at Avery Fisher Hall on Wednesday night. With
soloists Barbara Frittoli, Violeta Urmana, Giuseppi Sabbatini and Samuel
Ramey, he emphasized uncommonly lovely piano singing and dramatic
Under Muti, the seven segments became in some ways operatic minidramas,
progressing from the opening to the thunderous "Dies Irae" ("Day of
Wrath") all the way through to the final "Libera Me" ("Deliver Me").
While he took 88 minutes to work through the piece, it didn't seem
lumbering at all, with a fine balance between tempi.
He made sure the singers didn't push it, giving a distinctly Italianiate
sound to a piece that some conductors can let boom. With Muti on the
podium, the philharmonic became one of the world's top ensembles,
sounding transformed with sweet playing from the strings and precise
He had a much stronger group of soloists to work with than when he
performed this work a decade ago at Carnegie Hall with his regular
orchestra, from the Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan, Italy.
Frittoli was the star, floating spine-tingling high Cs in the "Dies
Irae" and showing the necessary power and heft when she had to without
sacrificing tone. Urmana, too, was thrilling. When they combined in
"Agnus Dei" ("O Lamb of God"), where they are unaccompanied, it was a
rare moment of two top Verdi singers in their prime.
Ramey, who just turned 60, showed that phrasing and elegance are as much
a part of singing as vocal power. His bass doesn't have the thunder it
did a decade ago, but it isn't needed in the Requiem. The only holdover
from Muti's cast a decade ago, he conveyed the ominous words with only
the slightest hints of strain.
Sabbatini combined the necessary ringing with precise phrasing,
especially when singing piano.
It was a tantalizing evening. Before hiring Lorin Maazel to take over as
music director next September, the New York Philharmonic talked to Muti
about taking job. He said his duties at La Scala wouldn't allow him the
A pity. When he is on the podium, the philharmonic rises to a higher
Muti Masters Balancing Act On Verdi Piece
Howard Kissel, New York Daily News, 22 April 2002
Early in Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem conjures up a terrifying vision of
Judgment Day, describing the trumpets summoning the dead before the
throne of God.
Guest conductor Riccardo Muti, who led the New York Philharmonic, the
Westminster Symphonic Choir and a distinguished quartet of soloists,
stationed trumpets throughout Avery Fisher Hall - a few in boxes on
either side of the stage, others in a high balcony at the back.
The sound filled the hall brilliantly, creating a visceral understanding
of Verdi's dramatic vision.
It was on a sonic level that Muti excelled in his presentation of
Verdi's overpowering masterpiece.
The forces Verdi employs are massive - the orchestra itself, a huge
chorus, as well as soloists. To keep these forces in balance is no small
feat, and throughout the piece, Muti made us conscious of how Verdi
plays them one against the other.
The orchestra had a smooth, burnished sound that made it seem part of a
team rather than the dominant player.
The soloists were impressive. Samuel Ramey's voluminous bass gave his
solos a patriarchal depth. Tenor Giuseppe Sabbatini, making his
Philharmonic debut, has a golden voice and sings expressively.
Soprano Barbara Frittoli also made her Philharmonic debut with a sure
understanding of the dynamics of the piece. The most moving of the
soloists was mezzo-soprano Violeta Uramana, whose melting voice best
conveyed the plaintiveness of the music.
One came away with a fresh appreciation of the architecture of the work,
especially in the vibrant singing of the Westminster Choir, but the
moments of emotional power were fewer.
Turning to see the trumpets, one was forced to confront the supreme
tackiness of Philip Johnson's design of the Avery Fisher Hall interior.
Whatever one's fate on Judgment Day, one hopes there will be better
Are Italians the only ones who can do justice to Verdi's Requiem?
Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, 6 May 2002
Do Italian conductors have a special line to the Verdi Requiem? I'm
beginning to think so. My first exposure to this overwhelming musical
fresco was on discs -- the historic Toscanini, Serafin, and De Sabata
recordings -- and the most memorable live performances I've heard since
then were led by Guido Cantelli, Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado,
and now Riccardo Muti. Muti recently conducted the Requiem in Avery
Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic and Westminster Symphonic
Choir, a belated centennial tribute to Verdi but by some distance the
most musically distinguished one the composer has yet received
hereabouts, in the concert hall or opera house.
Like his predecessors, Muti is as persuasive conducting Brahms,
Stravinsky, and Debussy as he is presiding over Italian opera. Perhaps
that explains why his Verdi is so special. He not only taps into all the
operatic heat that gives the Requiem its dramatic power, he also
structures the score in ways that seem to elude non-natives or
conductors who do only opera. A year ago, James Levine led a
high-powered reading in Carnegie Hall, but it had little of the
instrumental color, rhetorical eloquence, or exquisitely shaped phrasing
that informed Muti's interpretation. The orchestra's rapport with the
conductor was more alive and responsive than it is with most guest
maestros. And to think how close Muti came to becoming the
Philharmonic's next musical director. Requiem connoisseurs may have
found the solo quartet a trifle lightweight, but Barbara Frittoli,
Violeta Urmana, Giuseppe Sabbatini, and Samuel Ramey all sang with vocal
distinction, emotional commitment, and a real sense of occasion. A
complex network of microphones crisscrossed the stage, so I trust that
this fabulous performance was being preserved for posterity and will
eventually reach an even larger audience.
This page was last updated on: July 6, 2003