Following an unpredictable year, the Los Angeles Opera marked its continuing of another season. The LA Opera premiers its first show in 2022 with “St. Matthew Passion” on March 12.
“St. Matthew Passion” tells the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. It centralizes on the last two days in the life of Christ. The music was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the libretto, or lyrics, was composed in German by Christian Friedrich Henrici.
Bach sure knew how to tell a story, and the crucifixion of Jesus was not a light subject to talk about. Ironically, he never even intended for this piece to be an opera. Bach is notable for his involvement in theology and intended for this to be performed during the Holy Week preceding Easter. In this production, John Neumeier, the director of choreography, staging, set and costume design, took an abstract and interpretive approach.
Costume and set design were minimal. There were three sets of costumes in color white: male, female and Christ. The choice of color and design can be interpreted in many ways. I believe the main purpose was to deter us from any kind of distraction. Although, it was difficult to decipher who was who: who was against Christ and who wasn’t.
Throughout the performance, my mind was working 50 miles an hour. Maybe that’s what kept me awake for the almost four-hour program. It was trying to understand and interpret what was happening in front of me. The Hamburg Ballet provided a delicate presence, a bit conflicting when trying to tell such a gruesome story. There was an essence of intricacy in their choreography that utilized every singly body part. Their replete awareness of their movement was commendable. Everything told a story even their inert ballet walks to and from the aisles of the concert hall.
The choir was an aural beauty. The dynamism and drama rooted from the choir. Having both the LA Opera Chorus and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, contributed to that Sunday church service feel. The choir plays the part of narrator; it is both the harbinger and the herald. “Kommt, ihr Töchter,” or “Come ye Daughters,” the first epic chorus expressed pure trepidation. It served as the prelude to the predestination. The last epic chorus, “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder,” or “In tears of grief, dear Lord, we leave Thee,” abated the impassion of Christ’s story. The forlorn voices were dragging to say goodbye.
The voices compensated for the evocation of delicacy on the stage. The chorales, arias and recitativesept ears grounded in the Baroque era. Both tenors making their LA Opera debut, Joshua Blue and Michael Sumuel produced a performance that delineated the precedented tension of the inevitable outcome and the despondency of Christ.
The women in Christ’s life played an instrumental role to his story evoking a somber grace in their lamentations. Soprano Tamara Wilson and mezzo-sopranousan Graham conveyed that feminine touch. My ephemeral consciousness was locked in when Wilson sung the aria, “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben,” or “For love my Saviour now is dying.” The aria was the calm before the storm, and Wilson was like the hand running through placid waters.
A modernistic approach is a tricky subject. With any form of art, the saying “to each his own” can follow anything without question. Although, one could say otherwise. Bach. What would Bach do? Probably not this, but that’s how art works. It plays with time because it’s allowed to. Whether you completely dismiss the time era in which it was birthed in or respect it completely, everything is valid.
Taking a secular direction in a story that is the heart and soul of a religion can take a toll in execution. There is no going around that. Its main objective was to have us listen to a story, a story that educed immense emotion in which we could all feel for.