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Verdi's Requiem With The Chicago Symphony

October 10th marked the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi's birth. All this week, we're celebrating this singular composer's work. We invited a Verdi specialist, soprano Angela Meade — who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in spectacular storybook fashion, stepping into a Verdi role — to play guest DJ. We've shared a cheat sheet on what you might want to know about his music. And Weekends on All Things Considered host Arun Rath shared his thoughts about how he thinks the Italian composer edged out Shakespeare in his own game in Otello.

But on Verdi's birthday, we have a very nice treat: a video stream, captured live from Chicago's Symphony Hall, of a thrilling performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, led by conductor Riccardo Muti in a performance of Verdi's incredible Requiem, featuring soprano Tatiana Serjan, mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona, tenor Mario Zeffiri and bass Ildar Abdrazakov.

A mammoth piece of music, this Requiem was written in the aftermath of the death of one of the composer's closest friends, the poet, novelist and Italian cultural icon Alessandro Manzoni. But along with memorializing Manzoni, Verdi achieved an amazing feat. As conductor Marin Alsop tells it, Verdi created a work with "the drama of opera and the thrill of wonderful symphonic writing combined with stellar, virtuosic solo moments" (not to mention the tremendous choral writing, spectacular trumpet fanfares and whomping bass drum he wove in for good measure).

The passion and dramatic verve that Muti masterfully elicited in this performance is simply magnificent. The chorus and orchestra, with its famous Chicago brass sound, summoned both massive power and a heavenly stillness as the score called for. The soloists — particularly Abdrazakov and Serjan — delivered intense and deeply felt performances. Big occasions don't necessarily equal extraordinary performances, but this performance of Verdi's Requiem is one for the ages.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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