Grand Rapids Symphony’s cast of 275 musicians and more performs monumental Verdi’s Requiem, Nov. 17-18

You’ll find Giuseppe Verdi at the top of any list of all-time greatest opera composers.

One of the best operas ever written by the composer Rigoletto, La Traviata, Aida usually is performed in a concert hall, though it calls for no costumes, make up or sets.

Verdi’s Requiem, at first glance, seems like it was meant for the church. But his setting of Mass for the Dead according to the Roman Catholic Church is drama at its best.

The musical tour de force includes some of the greatest music written by one of the greatest composers for stage. With its thunderous Dies Irae or “Day of Wrath” movement, it’s also one of the most popular works every written for orchestra and chorus.

Former Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Semyon Bychkov conducts
The BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra in the Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem

The Grand Rapids Symphony presents Verdi’s Requiem, featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and the Calvin College Capella, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17-18, in DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW.

Tickets for the third concert of the 2017-18 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series start at $18 for adults, $5 for students. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to

Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, who will be on the podium, says the piece is a particular favorite of his.

“It’s one of the pieces I enjoy conducting the most,” said Lehninger, who is in his second season with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Soprano Julianna Di Giacomo, mezzo soprano Suzanne Hendrix, tenor Carl Tanner, and bass Raymond Aceto are guest soloists. Tanner replaces the previously announced Anthony Dean Griffey, who dropped out due to illness.

The four all are experienced performers of Verdi’s operas.

Pearl Shangkuan, who is in her 14th season as director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, also is a professor of music at Calvin College and director of Capella, the top vocal group at the college in Grand Rapids.

All told, there will be upwards of 275 musicians on stage for the performance.

“It has everything and the kitchen sink,” said Shangkuan, prior to the Grand Rapids Symphony’s last performance in 2010.

Prior to 2010, the Grand Rapids Symphony last sang Verdi’s Requiem in November 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which gave added poignancy to the Libre Me section, with its first line that translates as “Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fateful day.”

Both performances will be dedicated to the memory Helen DeVos, who died in October. The philanthropist and patron of the arts served for nearly 20 years on the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors and was honored with a BRAVO! Lifetime Achievement Award, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s highest honor, in 2007.

Verdi, who was spiritual, but not a regular churchgoer, poured his most mature vocal and dramatic gifts into his Messa da Requiem, which is sung in Latin. Translations will be projected into English in DeVos Hall.

Even if you haven’t heard of Verdi’s Requiem, you’ve almost certainly heard portions of the 85-minute work. The dramatic Dies Irae, perhaps the loudest musical moment in the entire orchestra repertoire, has become the go-to soundtrack to signal that Armageddon is on the way. It’s frequently heard in movies including Mad Max: Fury Road with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in 2015; Django Unchained with Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Quentin Tarantino, in 2012; and The Final Curtain with Peter O’Toole in 2002.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 11:00
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