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Bach at the Opera


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


<< Continued from page 1


Bach's St John Passion at the London ColiseumIn fact it got considerably better. Paul Whelan's Jesus, although more a man of flesh than other-worldly, was beautifully sung and David Kempster was very adept at portraying Pilate's dilemma. Without a doubt Mark Padmore is one of the great Evangelists, his voice subtly shading every nuance of the story but I wonder, as narrator of events, if he should have been asked to show such emotion. The principal soloists, Natalie Christie making her ENO debut as replacement for Susan Gritton, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Barry Banks and, another ENO debut, Michael George - all well-versed in Bach performance - were excellent.

Also making his debut at the Coliseum was conductor Stephen Layton who describes the St John Passion as being in his bloodstream. This he demonstrated by coaxing out of the ENO orchestra - slightly augmented with some early instrumentalists - a performance of great sensitivity and musicality, holding the performance together on stage with great skill and, occasionally driving the pace forward to suit the action.

At the Crucifixion onwards, Warner's production was intensely sensitive and moving, the, at times, great, almost bare stage giving a feeling of extraordinary desolation - the house was absolutely still.

It didn't last. At the closing chorus the light bulbs descended again and bunches of flowers covered the stage - shades of Kensington Palace. The valedictory chorale had the amateur singers - human nature being what it is - trying to outdo the opera chorus. This had me groping my way through the auditorium muttering just before the lights went up and the applause started.

What a pity that singular atmosphere was not maintained until the curtain came down. With no applause many would have left the Coliseum in a thoughtful frame of mind. If only ...


Copyright © 21 April 2000 Shirley Ratcliffe, Norfolk, UK


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