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Requiem receives master treatment

The Verdi Requiem Mass is so big, so dramatic, so multilayered, that it's hard to know where to begin when writing about a performance as superb as the one Friday night by the Florida Orchestra, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and soloists. Jahja Ling conducted in Morsani Hall of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

For one thing, it's rare to have such a well-matched vocal quartet as Camellia Johnson, soprano; Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, mezzo-soprano; Jianyi Zhang, tenor; and Thomas Potter, bass. Usually, there's a clinker among the soloists, but not here. The women were especially outstanding.

Johnson's opulent tone carried wonderfully over the orchestra and chorus, and her exchange with concertmaster Amy Schwartz Moretti in the Offertorio was sublime. Mitchell-Velasco was an expressive mezzo, showing an effortless upper register in the declamatory solo of the Liber scriptus. Johnson and Mitchell-Velasco blended beautifully in the Recordare, the Agnus Dei and other duets that give the Requiem much of its theatrical quality.

Zhang shone in ardent passages of the Offertorio. His light, almost boyish tenor in the Ingemisco made for a vivid contrast with the bass of Potter, who sang the Confutatis with the blunt severity of an Old Testament patriarch.

The Master Chorale excelled in the intermissionless hour and 20 minute performance, ranging in emotional texture from the velvety opening fugue to the nightmarish Dies irae to the jubilant Sanctus. Verdi's score uses the chorus to keep the intensity from flagging, and the 170-voice group, prepared by music and artistic director Richard Zielinski, generated relentless momentum.

The Dies irae was anchored by incredible double bass drum play of John Shaw and the timpani of John Bannon. In the Tuba mirum, Ling positioned a pair of trumpets on each side of the mezzanine, creating a sensational surround-sound effect with the four trumpets onstage.

Special note should be paid to good work by the woodwinds, whose parts are fiendishly difficult, with a lot of fast chromatic scales. The bassoon solo by Mark Sforzini in the Quid sum miser was a spooky delight.