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Columbia Pro Cantare lifts voices to heaven for Mozart Requiem

Columbia Pro Cantare's music director Fances Motyca Dawson has put together a performance of Mozart including the Mozart Requiem on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre.
Columbia Pro Cantare's music director Fances Motyca Dawson has put together a performance of Mozart including the Mozart Requiem on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre.(File photo)

Columbia Pro Cantare opens its 43rd season with an ambitious program featuring the Mozart Requiem on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre. This uplifting piece was last done by Pro Cantare in 2009, so its loyal audience has all the more reason to be eager to hear it again a decade later.

The conductor for this program is Laura Lee Fischer. Featured soloists are soprano Miso Kang, mezzo Randa Melhem, tenor Kyle Tomlin, tenor Dies Bildnis, and baritone Aprite Un Po’quegli Occhi. Also populating the stage are the Festival Orchestra and organist Sammy Marshall.

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Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson said that the audience will be in for a treat when it hears these Peabody Conservatory-affiliated vocal soloists and the additional instrumental players. Indeed, the audience will be hearing a lot from them, because the first half of the program begins with the overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” Then the audience will hear three operatic arias from “Figaro” and a fourth aria from that same composer’s “The Magic Flute.”

If the first half qualifies as Mozart appetizers, the second half is a musical meal. One of his most acclaimed works, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626, was composed at the very end of his life. It will always be shocking to contemplate that this precocious and prolific composer was only 35 when he died in 1791.

“For somebody with an incredibly short life, he managed to cover everything with his music,” Dawson said. “This Requiem is among the great pieces of music. If you can’t be moved by it, then nothing can move you.”

Considering the scale of this composition and the precarious state of Mozart’s health, it is not surprising that he left the Requiem unfinished at the time of his death. It is securely known that Mozart only completely finished the “Requiem aeternam” and “Kyrie” sections. The rest of the Requiem was officially completed the following year by Franz Xaver Sussmayr.

Beyond some basic facts about its composition, there have been more than two centuries of endless speculation about his Requiem. Where armchair psychoanalysts are concerned, there has always been speculation as to whether Mozart intended the piece to be played at his own funeral mass. There is furious debate as to the extent to which Sussmayr worked from notes left by Mozart and the extent to which he finished the Requiem completely on his own.

Much of the speculation and, for that matter, misinformation was fueled by Mozart’s widow Constanze, who certainly would have had reason to want to claim as much of the composition as she could for her late husband. Yet more speculation swirls around whether the composer Antonio Salieri, who is best known to us today through Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” and its film version, had a hand in tinkering with the incomplete music manuscript.

In any event, the Sussmayr version that became the standard performance version was tinkered with by other composers in the 20th century. Those hoping to untangle all of that music history might find themselves doing research and then, ultimately, find themselves praying for a divine answer.

“I don’t get hung up on [speculation]," Dawson said. "I take it for what it is. I am interested in what is on the printed page, whatever’s there. For the listener hearing it, this is an incredible work. Mozart is as much a dramatist and an operatic composer as he is a religious composer here. It has the size of an opera, and all of the protagonists are on stage at the end.”

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Dawson added that Mozart managed to give us this Requiem despite his failing health and what she described as his “emotional turmoil.”

Out of such turmoil, a composer from the late 18th century is still capable of inspiring us in the early 21st century.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs the Mozart Requiem on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. There are a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m., a silent auction and a post-concert reception. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance, and $2 more at the door; $10 for children 15 and under. Call 410-799-9321 or go to procantare.org.

This story has been updated to correct the misspelling of the name of one of the performers.

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