Thursday 8 February 2024

Sitting in a concert hall is not a great place to have a musical experience: Frederick Waxman introduces Our Mother, Figure's dramatic staging of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri - Figure at the Swiss Church in 2023
This is my body Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri from Figure at the Swiss Church in 2023

The ensemble Figure, co-artistic directors Frederick Waxman and Philip Barrett, has had some considerable success with its stagings at Opera Holland Park of Handel's Serse (in 2022) and Shakespeare/Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream (in 2023), but last year the company also created a remarkable immersive staging Buxtehude's sacred cantata sequence Membra Jesu Nostri [see my review].

From 20 to 23 March 2024 they will be presenting Our Mother at Stone Nest. This will be a dramatised staging of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with additional music by Alex Mills. Directed by Sophie Daneman, the staging will be performed by women of multiple generations, Dame Emma Kirkby, Catherine Carby, Rowan Pierce and Katie MacDonald.

When I chatted to Frederick Waxman about the production he commented that whilst everyone knows the first 20 seconds or so of Pergolesi's music, they wanted to bring a contemporary resonance to the piece. Alex Mills' new music will not be a stand-alone piece, but rather Mills takes material from the Pergolesi and treats it in an organic way, developing it in new ways so that the new music wraps around the old like an exoskeleton.

Frederick sees the Stabat Mater as an interesting text, as unnamed observers describe what is happening off stage, and then ask the audience to feel and be redeemed by it. On the one hand, this is an extremely Marian Catholic concept, but on the other, there is an immortal secular aspect, the unimaginably awful idea of a mother watching her son being murdered.

And this is something which has a horrible contemporary resonance; Frederick comments that too often we can see social media postings about such happenings without contemplating what the event really means to those involved. We tend to gloss over such things, and he quotes George Eliot's Middlemarch, "If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity". There is a huge weight of human experience that we try and avoid but which we have a duty to face.

The production will not be a dramatisation and will certainly not be a pantomime crucifixion. Too often, Frederick feels, music becomes a spectator sport and he thinks that sitting in a concert hall is not a great place to have a musical experience. Instead, they want to make the audience feel they are participating, making them feel compassion.

Sophie Daneman, herself a singer, is directing and she is trying to draw out the universality of the female experience in the piece. Losing a child is universal and motherhood is an essential part of the female experience, whether a mother or not. In order to highlight this, the solos are split between four women of different generations, giving a sense of the four sharing the pain.

Figure's Our Mother is at Stone Nest from 20 to 23 March, full details from Figure's website.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month