Originally performed at La Scala in 1967 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Toscanini’s death, this production with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro alla Scala was presented in Moscow, Montreal and New York, in addition to Milan. It was recorded on film (35mm) in 1967, with the young Luciano Pavarotti replacing Carlo Bergonzi.
It is one of Karajan’s earliest film productions (and his first color film); it reflects his innovativeness, especially in his choice of Henri-Georges Clouzot as director, the French creator of classic “films noirs” such as “Quai des Orfèvres” and “Wages of Fear”.
Together with Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Verdi’s Requiem ranks as one of the two supreme achievements in 19th-century liturgical music. Verdi revered the great Italian author Alessandro Manzoni. When Manzoni died on 22 May 1873, Verdi wrote to his publisher expressing his desire to compose a Requiem Mass. It was premiered on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. From the hushed reverence of the “Requiem aeternam” to the raging fury of the “Dies irae”, and from the overwhelming power of the “Tuba mirum” to the sobbing grief of the “Lacrimosa”, the Requiem is a highly dramatic and emotional – though not theatrical – work. Verdi specified that it “must not be sung the way an opera is sung”. A work of awesome grandeur, it projects a compelling sincerity and honesty, even though Verdi was a non-observant Catholic.