Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Franco Center, Lewiston-Auburn
May 14, 2016
Producing Verdi’s “Requiem” is aways a major undertaking, but the Midcoast Symphony under Rohan Smith, the Oratorio Chorale, Vox Nova and a fine cast of soloists carried it off in great style Saturday night at the Franco Center in Lewiston.
The full-length mass was sung without intermission before a full house, the largest audience I have seen for a Midcoast concert at this venue. The performance rightly emphasized the operatic nature of the work.
What never ceases to surprise me about the Midcoast is the caliber of soloists it attracts with regularity. Saturday’s vocalists, who play a star role in the operatic Mass, were no exceptions. They were Rachele Schmiege, soprano, Rebecca Ringle, alto, Kevin Ray, tenor, and Gustav Andreassen, bass. (Really good basses must be named Gustav or Boris.)
All were outstanding, but Verdi’s favorite in this work is the soprano, who gets all the good parts after the final Dies Irae, often seeming to be arguing successfully with God. Schmeige has the power and clarity to soar effortlessly above the full orchestra and two of Maine’s best choirs.
Speaking of choirs, it often appears to be a waste of talent to write the score for two; it is so difficult to distinguish the parts that the composer might as well have specified one large chorus. That is until the great fugue (also after the Dies Irae) in which Vox Nova and the Oratorio Chorale plainly distinguish themselves as separate voices. It makes the whole thing worthwhile.
For the other choral sections, it might help to separate the choirs physically, but that doesn’t seem possible within the limited stage space at the Franco Center.
The orchestral part of the Requiem is ideal for an amateur ensemble, but the Midcoast sounded anything but. The balance of forces was near-perfect. The visions of Hell in the Dies Irae were effective, as were the trumpet calls from the rear of that hall in the Tuba mirum, which startled some of the audience members. One child put his hands over his ears like the young Mozart at the sound of a trumpet.
The pause half-way through, to allow orchestra members to re-tune, was a mistake. It broke their concentration and there were a few sour noes afterward, but only for a measure or two.
All-in-all, it was a grand effort, surpassing a professional performance here a few years ago, and well deserved its standing ovation and curtain calls.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.