Maybe I'll think about the DVD....
Passion propels more operas than almost any other human emotion; however, many musical dramas have a very different sort of passion—the final days of Jesus—as their subject. While most commonly performed in concert halls or churches, this week the greatest of these, J. S. Bach’s setting of the gospeler Matthew’s retelling, opened this season’s White Light Festival in a grandly ambitious semi-staging by Peter Sellars at a strikingly transformed Park Avenue Armory.
Featuring a group of (mostly) impressive soloists and accompanied by no less than the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, the two-performance run quickly sold out becoming this fall’s most sought-after ticket. Although there may have been a few defections at intermission, I didn’t see a single person leaving Wednesday’s performance early, a testament to the power of Sellars’s deceptively simple concept.
Inspired by the uniquely enveloping design of the Philharmonie, the orchestra’s home in Berlin, an awe-inspiring physical environment was created for the event. Surrounded by high bleachers on all sides, a small stage at the center of the Armory featured the Philharmonic divided into two groups with an exemplary continuo band of organ, cello, lute and bass set between them. The superb 66-member Rundfunkchor Berlin was also split into halves with each choir member sitting on a cube of blond wood on risers. Several other larger boxes, one of which became both the table for the Last Supper, then Jesus’s tomb, were the production’s only props.