Rhinegold Photo credit: Clive Barda
Full-throated passion returns to the London Coliseum

Ashutosh Khandekar

Review: Mozart’s Requiem in concert at ENO

11:39, 18th December 2020

Mozart – Requiem

English National Opera, London Coliseum

November 2020



Panic, frustration, anger, a sense of helplessness – living through a pandemic affects people in different ways. It’s all too easy however, unless you’ve experienced it at first hand, to overlook the sheer sorrow in what has come to pass over the last year. Hundreds of thousands of people have died around the world, reduced to statistical spikes and troughs on a graph that becomes the basis of in-depth discussions in daily news bulletins. The communal act of mourning the dead, the outpourings of grief and the comforting rituals of remembrance have been denied to so many at a time when we have most needed them.

In this context, English National Opera’s televised performance of Mozart’s Requiem has a sense of something momentous and necessary entering our homes and our hopes. The staging of the work was due, originally, to mark ENO’s return to live performances at its London Coliseum base in front of a real, socially distanced, audience. Then came England’s second lockdown, which meant that that everything had to be hastily reorgansied (a recurring theme in 2020) to fit a new set of circumstances and rules.

Plunged back into a virtual world, ENO did a marvellous job. It’s not easy presenting a concert on a screen to no live audience. For a TV viewership used to visual overload, the inevitable stand-and-deliver format of a classical concert can become humdrum on a screen. Soprano Danielle de Niese set the whole thing up nicely in her brief introduction; ENO’s new boss Annilese Miskimmon gave us the raison d’être of the performance: ‘We wanted a sense of community and beauty to touch people’s hearts.’

Decades of historically informed performance styles and period instrument sound-worlds were swept aside with the thrusts of Mark Wigglesworth’s baton – though there was never anything turgid or old fashioned about his approach. Wigglesworth’s forces at ENO brought us (appropriately enough) the full-blooded passion of opera. From the urgent fugue of the ‘Kyrie Eleison’ to the fury of ‘Dies Irae’ and the quietly shattering tragedy of the ‘Lacrymosa’, ENO’s chorus and orchestra delivered what they know best – the drama and intensity of the operatic stage. The quartet of soloists, singing from memory, were distinctive in their individual numbers and coherent in their ensembles, especially the beautifully balanced ‘Benedictus’. Gerald Finley’s clear and authoritative baritone; Ed Lyon’s plaintive and urgent tenor; Dame Sarah Connolly’s mezzo adding warmth and dignity; and soaring above it all, Elizabeth Llewellyn’s vibrant, spirited soprano, bringing extraordinary poise to Mozart’s glorious, heart-lifting vocal line. This was refreshment for the soul in the musical wilderness of the pandemic.

Mozart’s Requiem is available to view on BBC iPlayer until October 2021.

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