Review: For 9/11 Tribute, the Met Opera Returns Home

The company distributed 500 free tickets to the families of victims; all other tickets were just $25, and sold out within hours. Audio of the performance was broadcast into the plaza. And PBS carried the event. (But, attesting to what we’ve learned the hard way this year — that live is always better — a glitch disrupted the TV broadcast right at the sublime ending.)

The choristers seemed poignant and vulnerable as they removed their masks to begin this 90-minute score. I felt vulnerable as well, and this performance claimed me from the first moments, when the cellos played the muted, solemn descending first line. Nézet-Séguin gently drew a sighing violin line and plaintive chords from the strings, and the choristers almost muttered the word “Requiem,” as if afraid to say it out loud.

In some ways, Verdi’s Requiem is not quite the right choice for commemorating 9/11. Chilling fears of death and terrified thoughts of Judgment Day and the fires of hell run through the text and music. But Nézet-Séguin emphasized the consoling aspects, taking every chance to bring out subtleties and tenderness in the music. Even in the blazing episodes of the “Dies irae,” with pounding bass drum, vehement brass and frenzied runs in strings, he had the music sounding more grave and biblical, less operatically dramatic. He brought sweep and shape to the passages of steady, inexorable buildup. And in the “Offertorio” he drew out the music’s ruminative elegance.

The soloists were excellent. Pérez sang beautifully, with radiant sound — sometimes seeming angelic, sometimes fiery. DeYoung balanced smoldering intensity with affecting refinement. Polenzani was ardent and earnest in a splendidly sung “Ingemisco.” And when Owens began the “Mors stupebit” section with earthy deep tones, he sounded truly stunned.

There were a couple of dicey, slightly uncoordinated moments during the fleet “Sanctus.” But it had all the affirming, assertive spirit you could want. The final “Libera me,” the most inward-looking section of the piece, was magnificent, with an inspired Perez and the great chorus. By my watch, the ovation at the end lasted eight minutes, with especially ardent bravos for the Met’s chorus master, Donald Palumbo, and his charges.

With the Mahler performances and this Requiem, both gifts to the city, behind it, the Met can truly start afresh later this month, when the opera season opens in earnest with Terence Blanchard’s opera “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first work by a Black composer in the company’s history.

But music lovers are already in debt to the Met, and especially to the orchestra players and choristers who have defined this company, season after season.

Verdi’s Requiem

Performed Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera.

New York time

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