Deliver me, O Lord, from everlasting death on that dreadful day, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.
When Thou shalt come to judge the earth by fire . . .
When soprano Barbara Livingston concluded Libera me, the final, plaintive lines of Verdi's Requiem, and conductor Mario Bernardi lowered his baton, the silence was deafening. Nearly 2,000 people in the audience of the National Arts Centre for the inaugural performance last week of Requiem 9/11 sat in stunned silence as they tried to absorb what they had just experienced.
After a pause that seemed like an eternity, applause began slowly and built into an extended standing ovation for an emotional tour de force, a unique blending of voice, dance and projected images that left no one present untouched by its power.
Requiem 9/11 began as a mating of inspiration and solace in the mind of the celebrated choreographer Brian Macdonald. Although written in 1868 by a skeptical agnostic, Verdi's requiem mass is considered one of the most majestic and moving pieces of funeral music ever written.
As his wife Giuseppina wrote at the time, "Posterity will place it, with wings outspread, in domination of all the music of mourning ever conceived by the human brain." So using it to recall and commemorate the horrors of Sept. 11 was a natural.
Mr. Macdonald's idea was to enhance the experience of the music by choreographing a ballet and presenting it in front of images of history's great atrocities (including, of course, the destruction of the World Trade Center) projected onto the backdrop.
A funeral mass is normally sung in a church. No one had ever attempted to choreograph Verdi's requiem as a ballet before. The dancers, sometimes ash-covered, other times probing a darkened stage with flashlights to symbolize the efforts of rescue workers, added a powerful dimension to Verdi's music.
The person who brought Mr. Macdonald's vision to the stage was his friend and long-time collaborator, impresario John Cripton.
Mr. Cripton's turbulent history as the former director-general of the National Arts Centre is a story in itself and added to the complications of bringing Requiem 9/11 to fruition. But that is not the thesis here, and the NAC, at the insistence of its chairman, David Leighton, backed the artistically controversial but innovative endeavour, reminding naysayers that taking risk is part of the mandate of a national institution.
The point of this longish introduction, in addition to recognizing a stimulating and memorable experience, is to tie Requiem 9/11 to Canada's continuing efforts to capture American attention and to garner credit for its support after the Sept. 11 attacks.
That is why Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is going to start his day on Wednesday in Gander, Nfld., before going on to a reception in New York. Gander is where the largest number of U.S.-bound aircraft landed when American airspace was closed immediately following the attacks.
The Department of Canadian Heritage has tried to project the Gander spirit, spending $500,000 on a coffee-table book of Canadian images in and around Sept. 11, including several heart-warming tales from Gander and elsewhere about the hospitality provided our involuntary "guests."
A leather-bound copy is supposed to have reached the desk of President George W. Bush, although we don't know for sure, and slightly less fancy copies have been sent to every American senator and congressman and Canadian MP. A total of 32,000 have been produced.
A more compelling way to get Americans' attention may have presented itself last week. By sending Requiem 9/11 to New York, Canada could make a unique and artistically groundbreaking contribution to the anniversary commemorations, as well as showcase Canadian talent. You couldn't get a more pan-Canadian representation: soloists from Halifax and Vancouver, dancers from the Winnipeg Ballet trained at the Banff Centre, the Opera Lyra Ottawa chorus and icons such as Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Bernardi.
Getting Requiem 9/11 to New York would cost less than the $500,000 picture book and potentially make a much larger impact.