Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the March 14, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
La Forza del Destino
One of the marks of a truly professional performance
is the aura that everything is under control. The conductor brings
down his baton and the music unrolls with verve and nuance. But it’s
not really all that seamless. A telephone conversation with Mark
music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, reveals the
ingenuity, and faith he found necessary to lubricate the process of
bringing Verdi’s Requiem to the stage this weekend.
The Princeton Symphony Orchestra performs Verdi’s dramatic masterpiece
in Richardson Auditorium on Saturday, March 17, at 8 p.m., and Sunday,
March 18, at 4 p.m. The musical forces consist of the orchestra,
strong; the 150 voices of Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club, the chorus
of the Philadelphia Orchestra; and four distinguished soloists.
adroitness came into play in lining up the soloists. Soprano Sharon
Sweet, mezz-soprano Barbara Dever, and bass Arthur Woodley are three
of the program’s four soloists.
I spoke to Laycock just two weeks before the first performance of
the Requiem. It was the morning after he learned that Francisco
the scheduled tenor, would be unable to appear in Princeton because
of contractual obligations at the Metropolitan Opera (a promotion,
in fact). Inexplicably composed and unruffled, Laycock, in full
of his storytelling skills, was eager to tell his tale.
"Casanova was not our original tenor," he began. "The
original tenor was Marcello Bedoni. I had heard him sing about two
years ago in Italy and I went crazy over him. Every time he sang,
he brought the house down. He’s a protege of Pavarotti, and his voice
quality is virtually identical to Pavarotti’s, though it’s not as
big. People absolutely melt when they hear him."
"Bedoni speaks very little English, but we made arrangements for
him to come. `Si, si.’ He was eager to do it. I saw him in December.
Then in January there was a note from his agent, Remigio Pereira.
The agent had double-booked him to make a debut in Palermo and to
be in Princeton. He wrote because Bedoni was too embarrassed to write
himself. He offered to try to replace Marcello with two or three other
tenors on his list and offered to send sound clips by E-mail. I told
him that I preferred to deal with the Met in New York. After all,
it’s only an hour away."
"So all of a sudden the singer that took this [Requiem] beyond
anything you could hear in New York was not available. Sharon Sweet
and Barbara Dever and Arthur Woodley are wonderful, but Bedoni has
not yet sung here. I was broken hearted. Marcello [Bedoni] wanted
to come to Princeton at another time and sing something else. But
you hear certain people’s voices in certain pieces, and he was perfect
for the Verdi Requiem."
With Bedoni out of the picture, Laycock invited the
Met’s Francisco Casanova to do the tenor solo. "Francisco was
happy to come," Laycock says. "Singers love to sing the Verdi
Requiem. Sharon and Barbara and Arthur thought it was wonderful to
have him. Then I got a call yesterday. The Met had moved Casanova
to the principal tenor role for Verdi’s `Nabucco.’ They also have
him singing `Trovatore’ the same week. Princeton would be impossible.
Casanova phoned Dever in a panic. `I can’t do Princeton,’ he told
her. But there were no hard feelings. He had wanted to do the
"Yesterday morning I fired off an E-mail to Bedoni’s manager,"
the storyteller continued. In an 11:25 a.m. message Laycock pursued
what he called "the unlikely event" that Bedoni’s plans had
changed, and added, "He is still by far my preference for the
Requiem." Laycock’s closing sentence, imploring destiny with two
exclamation points, invoked the name of a Verdi opera. "Oh, La
Forza del Destino!!" he concluded.
Within five hours Pereira replied, "La forza del destino sta con
te — (The force of destiny is with you!) — Verdi must be
in on us. Marcello’s Palermo debut has been changed to April.
in Italy decisions are usually made at the absolute last minute and
nobody knows anything, especially artists who remain in limbo until
the very end. Marcello is available for the Requiem and would love
to sing with you."
Minutes later Laycock E-mailed back, "Bravo!," adding, in
Italian, "my heart is singing!" "It’s a fairy tale
he says. "It was a stroke of fate."
At last, the soloists for Princeton Symphony’s Verdi Requiem emerge
as Sharon Sweet, soprano; Barbara Dever, mezzo soprano; Marcello
tenor; and Arthur Woodley, bass. Sweet is on the Met’s roster and
has an international career. A Princeton resident, whose children
attend Princeton High School, she often participates in musical events
in Princeton. Barbara Dever, a colleague of Sweet’s at the Met, is
also known throughout the world. She has been heard locally in a
recital at Rutgers’ SummerFest. Bedoni is an international prizewinner
with wide performing experience. Woodley appears in opera, as an
soloist, and as a recitalist, throughout the United States. "With
this cast," says Laycock, "I would drive three or four hours
to hear the Verdi Requiem. It’s an amazing assemblage of
I wonder whether the solo parts are equally important and equally
difficult. I’m curious about whether it is harder to replace the tenor
than the other soloists. Laycock’s reply stresses the balance of the
four soloists, rather than their individual roles.
"First," he says, "each solo part requires virtuosity.
The parts are of equal importance, though they’re used differently.
However, there are duos, a trio, and places where the entire solo
quartet sing together, so the voices must blend and be balanced not
just in their virtuosity but also their quality. Which leads to the
Then he talks about the individual’s effect on the mix. "If you
think of baking a cake, all the ingredients are important and if you
leave out one the cake fails. However, what makes a chef or baker
extraordinary is the ability to be able to take those ingredients
and make something special through the kind of ingredients used and
unexpected surprises — like a little more of this, or substituting
maple syrup for sugar. So it is with replacing a tenor. It is true
that a special tenor is rarer than a special soprano — hence `The
Three Tenors,’ though any extraordinary voice has the capacity to
make the listener melt into a puddle of ecstasy. The difference is
in the voice quality, that unexplainable color, or purity that is
individual to each singer, or violinist, for that matter."
"In this regard, Marcello is without peer. While our original
second choice was undoubtedly world class and would have left the
audience totally enthralled, the particular voice quality of this
tenor adds such a special ingredient to the cake, that people will
be left with an even sweeter aftertaste. As one of our concertmasters,
a strikingly beautiful and attractive woman, said when she heard
sing, `I wanted to marry him on the spot!’"
Still, Laycock is cautious about bringing the children
to the Requiem. "It’s 80 minutes without an intermission,"
he says. "The content would not prohibit bringing children. But
the piece could get very long even for a mature seven or
Laycock is an expert at music for children both because of his family
with its two sons and because of his stewardship of children’s
at the Princeton Symphony, as well as at the New Jersey Symphony
where this season he was appointed the assistant conductor.
For Laycock the Verdi Requiem outshines even Beethoven’s hour-long
Ninth Symphony. "In the Ninth Symphony three of the movements
are instrumental," he says, "and the chorus and soloists don’t
join in until the fourth movement. In the Requiem the chorus and
are there from the beginning. It’s like combining the most exciting
Verdi opera and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It’s an incredible
The offstage trumpets are a masterful touch. They’re thrilling.
the original surround sound. It’s a highly dramatic effect."
refuses to reveal where in the domed Richardson Auditorium he will
locate the trumpets for their solo, preferring to keep their placement
Looking back on his exposure to the Requiem, Laycock spotlights the
visceral appeal of the piece. "There are certain pieces that feel
as if you’ve always known them," he says. "The Verdi Requiem
feels as if it’s in your blood." He has played the piece many
times as a freelance violist. In addition, he prepared the Montreal
Symphony for its performance of the piece under Charles Dutoit.
Preparing to conduct the Princeton performances of the Requiem,
led the regular rehearsal of the Mendelssohn Club about three weeks
before the PSO concert. After reviewing a Mendelssohn Club score with
its performance markings indicated, Laycock had sent it back to the
conductor with the changes he wanted to make. "With a chorus,"
he says, "you’re always dealing with the length of notes and where
to place the consonants. The length of note varies because of
and interpretation. My emphasis with the chorus had to do with using
Italianate, instead of ecclesiastical Latin. [Laycock favors soft
sounds for the consonants "c" and "g."] The piece becomes
much more passionate that way and listeners don’t feel so far removed
from work. They’re not watching, but drawn into the piece."
To shift to high gear the week before performance, Laycock has
three rehearsals and a special session with the soloists. "Those
rehearsals are highly intense and highly productive," he says.
"There’s very little room for error. There’s no time by the water
cooler." Tuesday comes a rehearsal with orchestra only.
so the orchestra understands the textures, sonorities, and tempos
that I want. They get an overview of the piece before we add the
Wednesday afternoon Laycock and the soloists rehearse with a pianist
to coordinate the solo parts. "The soloists will not have sung
together," he says. "They have magnificent voices, but they
need to make adjustments for balance, and for blending their vocal
qualities." Wednesday evening follows a rehearsal with soloists
and orchestra. "The solo quartet needs to hear and feel the
Finally, a dress rehearsal with chorus added comes on Thursday
Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, comes the first performance of the piece.
I ask Laycock what lies behind scheduling the Verdi Requiem for that
day, and, with typical quickness, he produces a very good answer.
"Well, none of the soloists are Irish," he says. Then, he
triumphantly adds, "Why not? Verdi means green. We’re not only
wearing the green. We’re celebrating it." Indeed. One of the
for scheduling the Requiem this season is that 2001 is the 100th
of Verdi’s death.
— Elaine Strauss
Auditorium, 609-497-0020. $25 & $28; senior $22 & $24. Saturday,
March 17, 8 p.m. , and Sunday, March 18, 4 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.