ST. PETERSBURG — It started out like a scene in a Verdi opera, with soft, atmospheric playing by the cellos, but the music quickly gathered steam in an emphatic little chorus, followed by the soloists entering one by one.
And then all hell broke loose with pounding bass drum, pealing brass and blood-curdling chorus, as Verdi's Requiem launched into the Dies irae, which formed the centerpiece of a night of glorious singing Saturday at Mahaffey Theater.
Stefan Sanderling was on the podium in front of the Florida Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, along with a splendid solo quartet.
Because Verdi was an opera composer, it's natural that his setting of the Catholic Mass for the dead is richly theatrical. Bass-baritone Dean Elzinga threw himself into the Tuba mirum, spookily stressing mors ("death"). Tenor Jeffrey Springer was the most operatic soloist in his phrasing and pronunciation in the Ingemisco.
The women were especially fine. Alternating severity and warmth, mezzo-soprano Gigi Mitchell-Velasco had the haunting purity of tone of a high priestess in Lux aeterna.
Soprano Indra Thomas was like a magnificent force of nature, regal, passionate and wonderfully simple all at the same time. The Libera me finale has some of the most amazing music Verdi ever wrote, and her performance combined the soaring drama of an aria with the urgency of a prayer in memorable fashion. The 180-voice Master Chorale, prepared by Richard Zielinski, had many great moments, like the almost jolly double fugue of the Sanctus.
Finally, there was a first in my concert-going experience Saturday night: the unmistakable bark of a dog in the audience — where I couldn't tell — drawing a double take from Thomas before she and Mitchell-Velasco sang their vibrant duet in the Recordare.
John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes or (727) 893-8716.