Magazine article Opera Canada

St. Matthew Passion

Magazine article Opera Canada

St. Matthew Passion

Article excerpt

J. S. BACH

BR Klassik: 900509 As a church musician, Bach never composed an ,opera, but he was very aware of its, forms and styles, and of who was composing what during his lifetime. The closest Bach came to opera was in his settings of the Passion story, telling of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ according to the biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Although he probably composed several, only the St. John and St. Matthew Passions have survived complete. This recent 2-DVD set captures a live performance in Feb. 2013 at Munich's Herkulessaal.

Although the work has been staged and "ritualized" by such directors as Peter Sellars and Jonathan Miller, this is a straight concert performance, with no costumes, sets or gesturing. Occasionally, there are cutaways to Renaissance or Baroque paintings of Passion events by Rembrandt, Holbein, Darer and others. For example, when there is mention in recitative of the 12 disciples, we get a painting of the Last Supper. I found these subjective and distracting. Do I really need to "see" the music? It might be argued that this is better use of the visual DVD medium, but why,. then, are there no subtitles? Live performances of the Bach Passions today often feature projected translations of the German text. Nor are there any text translations in the accompanying DVD booklet. The visual medium is used to advantage in the opening chorus, where the camera switches to the boys' choir when it has the chorale,"0 Lamm Gottes, Unschuldig," while the double choir and orchestra continue. But throughout, I did question. why I would want to watch a live performance of this work on DVD, especially when a CD is available, too. Isn't CD the more suitable medium for a musical work of this kind?

Which said, this is a strong and moving performance. The all-important role of the Evangelist is taken by tenor Julian Pregardien, son of German lyric tenor Chris-toph. With a 'small but warm voice, he remains pretty straight in Part 1, up to the arrest of Christ. But in Part 2, he grows more dramatic, more of the storyteller, with his recitatives leading up to Peter's denial and the great alto aria,"Erbarme dich," becoming very emotional and expressive. …

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