A major 9/11 commemoration by The Metropolitan Opera in New York this Saturday includes two singers who grew up in the Chicago suburbs.
In “Verdi’s Requiem: The Met Remembers 9/11,” Elk Grove Village native Ailyn Pérez is the soprano soloist. Joining her as the tenor soloist is Matthew Polenzani, who grew up in Evanston, Glen Ellyn, Elgin and Wheaton.
Verdi’s Requiem marks the first indoor Metropolitan Opera performance since COVID-19 forced the company to shut down in March of 2020. The sold-out concert also will be nationally televised as part of “Great Performances” on PBS (locally on WTTW Channel 11 at 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11).
“There’s so much emotional weight attached,” Polenzani said. “In the face of the 20-year anniversary of one of the most terrifying and awful days in history, to be able to be here to offer music as a solace and a balm to the soul is a huge honor.”
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Pérez agreed. “Singing is a gift you give away, but it’s also to bring healing and bring beauty to this world.”
Joining Pérez and Polenzani as soloists are bass-baritone and Philadelphia native Eric Owens and mezzo-soprano and Michigan native Michelle DeYoung (a replacement for the previously announced Elina Garanca). Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the combined forces of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
Composer Giuseppe Verdi composed his operatic take on the traditional Latin Requiem Mass for the Dead in 1874 to honor the late Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni. The death of Verdi himself prompted the first Metropolitan Opera performance of his Requiem in 1901.
For both Polenzani and Pérez, Verdi’s Requiem is the right piece to mark both the solemn 9/11 anniversary and to honor the more than 600,000 American lives lost during the pandemic. This includes Metropolitan Opera Orchestra violist Vincent Lionti and “Dead Man Walking” opera librettist Terrence McNally, who both died from the coronavirus in spring of 2020.
During the pandemic, both Polenzani and Pérez were able to perform opera live in Europe — but often before reduced or empty auditoriums amid other COVID-19 restrictions. But they’re grateful that U.S. companies including the Lyric Opera of Chicago created online content with all the required COVID-19 safety protocols.
Polenzani was featured in an online concert honoring retiring Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis. Pérez also was featured in online Lyric concerts and a filmed version of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” reset to the backstage world of a 1950s sitcom.
Both singers are glad to resume live U.S. opera performances. Pérez will star as Adina in “The Elixir of Love” at the Lyric this month. She also very publicly became engaged to bass Soloman Howard at the Sept. 5 curtain call of “Tosca” at San Francisco Opera.
But Pérez and Polenzani feel the weight of the occasion for “Verdi’s Requiem: The Met Remembers 9/11.”
“Detractors of the Requiem say it’s too operatic in nature,” Polenzani said. “But for my money, it’s unbelievably emotionally charged all night.”