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Bach at the Opera


SHIRLEY RATCLIFFE attends English National Opera's
staging of the St John Passion


Written for performance on Good Friday as part of the liturgy, the Bach Passions are works of supreme genius portraying the fundamental act upon which Christianity is based.

To mark the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian, English National Opera has been presenting a staged version of the St John Passion in an English version by Neil Jenkins.

The St John Passion - neither as overtly dramatic as the St Matthew nor commanding such intricate choral writing - is more a work of contemplation.

Although, over the years, the Passions have transferred comfortably from church to concert hall, the move to opera house mounts a considerable challenge, which, on the whole, was not met by Deborah Warner's production at the London Coliseum.

The ambience of an opera house is not conducive. The pre-performance buzz of an opera audience does not induce the right atmosphere. From the first chorus, delivered by the highly trained, fully professional opera chorus - con vibrato - , I began to fear the worst. As the action continued with light bulbs slowly descending on to the stage - Warner's metaphor for tears - , the chorus clambering over or leaping up and down on benches, I began to wonder if it could get any worse. Amateur singers were packing the boxes on either side of the proscenium - to jolly the audience along in three of the chorales - their voices providing a stark and, for me, a more pleasing contrast to the professionals.


Bach's St John Passion at the London Coliseum


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Copyright © 21 April 2000 Shirley Ratcliffe, Norfolk, UK



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