On Friday we went to one of the final performances of the St. Matthew Passion at Glyndebourne. Katie Mitchell, in her production has opted to embed the performance of the passion in a scenario involving a community who have lost a number of children in a tragic accident. They are being helped by a group of 4 travelling players who enact the passion, with help from members of the community.
I found that the imposed scenario either did not go far enough or went too far; whichever way it seemed to me to be unhelpful except in the way that it engendered superb performances from some of the singers. The plight of the villagers neither moved me nor involved me. I felt that Mitchell should have either staged the work as a theatre piece based on the passion, thus allowing her to be much more interventionist and to give the villagers a real voice. Or to have simply staged the work without specific reference to them. Embedded in the performance was in interesting (and confusing) symbolic view of the passion.
Mark Padmore, strikingly shaven headed, made a passionate and committed Evangelist. Henry Waddington was the noble and much put upon Christ (repeatedly dowsed with salt, water and generally abused). Ingela Bohlin was an impressive soprano soloist and Sarah Connolly the superb alto soloist, both obviously took strength from Mitchell's interpretation. Andrew Tortise sang the tenor solos. At times he tended to push his voice for dramatic effect, which spoiled the musical performance; but when he relaxed he sang with his familiar easy and fluency. Christopher Purves was the bass soloist and I must confess to finding his performance a little boring.
The set, by Vicki Mortimer, was most impressive. The conducting, from Richard Egarr, was not. Even so late in the run, Egarr was having trouble keeping the chorus in time. Bach's big choruses are not meant to be sung by singers careering around the stage, so extra care needs to be taken. Unfortunately the closing choruses from Parts 1 and Parts 2 were marred by serious disagreements between stage and pit. Granted, the chorus sound was not ideal. In the opening chorus they were stationary, and so perfectly in time. But the chorus sound is heavily vibrato based and designed for 19th and 20th century music. The results in Bach's choruses made the sound confused and occluded.
I was glad I went to the performance, it was frequently musically satisfying. Also, it was provocative so that even if we didn't like it, it made us think and talk about what we would have wanted from a staging of the work.