Giuseppe Verdi viewed the liturgy for the dead the same way he viewed everything else -- as a potential libretto for grand opera.
His Requiem, composed in 1873 in tribute to the author Alessandro Manzoni, Verdi's colleague and fellow Italian nationalist, is the most electrifying work of the choral canon.
It demands great extremes of sound, from barely audible pianissimos to the most thunderous vocal eruptions imaginable.
Its solo interludes are so full of passion they might have been culled from "Aida," "La Traviata" or one of the maestro's other gut-wrenching operas.
And when the bass drum is whacked in the "Dies Irae," even the most avowed atheist might start to twitch nervously in contemplation of a Day of Wrath.
The Verdi Requiem ushers in the Annapolis Easter season at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Naval Academy, where John Barry Talley will conduct soloists, the Academy Glee Clubs and the Annapolis Symphony in the final Alumni Hall concert of this season's Distinguished Artist Series.
This will be Dr. Talley's first Verdi Requiem on the podium, and he is clearly thrilled.
"The Verdi is the biggest one there is," he says. "It challenges everybody: the full chorus, soloists, the brass, the percussionists -- everyone. It also challenges the conductor. Especially this one, who's always been more of an 18th century counterpoint kind of guy than an interpreter of large-scale operatic works."
Not only will this be Dr. Talley's first Verdi Requiem, but it will be the first at the Naval Academy, a fitting premiere to honor the institution's 150th anniversary.
As Verdi honored Manzoni, tomorrow's performance will commemorate nearly 600 academy alumni who gave their lives for their country in war. The concert program will include a listing of their names.
The concert also will close out the Annapolis career of one of the academy's musical mainstays. Jeanne Kelly, the gifted mezzo soprano and choral conductor who has taken the Women's Glee Club such a long way in such a short time, is moving to Texas. She will be greatly missed.
Ms. Kelly will join soloists Linda Mabbs, soprano; Gene Tucker, tenor; and Jonathan Deutsch, bass.
This is the fourth season of the academy's series. These performances have quickly become indispensable to the cultural life of Annapolis.
For ticket information, call 268-6060.