Following the overwhelming success of ETO’s performances of the great choral masterpieces of J. S. Bach, ETO will present St John Passion, in an immersive and semi-staged performance this spring. Professional soloists perform with more than 30 choirs from across the country as well as period orchestra, the Old Street Band, for these distinctive and reimagined performances.
COLLEGIUM MUSICUM OF LONDON CHAMBER CHOIR
LONDON YOUTH BOYS’ CHOIR
BUXTON OPERA HOUSE
MANCHESTER CHAMBER CHOIR
BUXTON BACH CHOIR
LADY MANNERS SCHOOL PROJECT CHOIR
CHESTER FESTIVAL CHORUS
CHESTER CATHEDRAL SATURDAY SINGING CLUB
EAST YORKSHIRE BACH COMMUNITY CHOIR
NORTHAMPTON DERNGATE THEATRE
NORTHAMPTON BACH CHOIR
NMPAT COMMUNITY CHOIR
THE CHOIR OF ALL SAINTS’ CHURCH
THEATRE BY THE LAKE
KESWICK CHORAL SOCIETY WIGTON CHORAL SOCIETYCOCKERMOUTH HARMONIC SOCIETY
LANCASTER BACH VOICES WITH LANCASTER RIPIENO CHOIR
GALA THEATRE DURHAM
DURHAM MUSIC COLLECTIVE DURHAM UNIVERSITY SINGERS
ANTIPHON THE TORBAY SINGERS THE DEVON COUNTYCHOIRS
THREE SPIRES SINGERS CORNWALL JUNIOR CHOIRCORNWALL YOUTH CHAMBER CHOIR
Intensity and urgency underpin English Touring Opera’s reflections on faith, loss and mortality
he core of the piece is the Gospel narrative. Bach retained the Biblical text (in Martin Luther’s German translation), which he set to recitative; in addition to this, he adapted contemporary poetry for the arias and a selection of chorales from seventeenth-century hymnals. The arias offer a commentary on the events described by the Evangelist and represent the highest level of complexity, with language rich in metaphors and a variety of musical accompaniments. The chorales are plainer, and their function is to represent us, the worshippers, and our collective response to the crucifixion. They would have been familiar to the congregation in the churches of Bach’s time, who might or might not have joined in the singing for these musical numbers.
The Passion story is inherently dramatic – with its apparently eye witness narrative pushing inexorably to Jesus’ death – and Bach’s setting has a strong sense of urgency. The interplay between the three levels of text in the piece (the Bible, the ornate poetry of the arias, and the chorales) gives the St John Passion
its richness and poignancy, and partly explains its status as one of the most perfect musical creations in Western civilisation.
We have taken an unusual approach to the presentation of these performances of the St John Passion. While we perform the entire work, including the additional bass aria “Himmel reisse” (“Heaven open, earth now quake”), we have divided the role
of the Evangelist between the soloists rather than allotting it to one tenor. We do this to give the story intensity and purpose, and to reconsider some of
the performance conventions that risk making the Evangelist more elegant than evangelistic. The purpose of telling this story is so that those who have not physically witnessed the Passion will be moved to believe – in the words of our rehearsals - so that the audience may feel their natural fear of death overcome by pity and love, and they will emerge hopeful from this awful (full of awe!) story.
Each of the soloists has created a character – and the character is defined by the incident or series
of incidents that made them first believe (or, from another point of view, the moment at which they felt they experienced grace, free help from outside, and that they overcame their terrible fear and learned to hope). Clearly, the lesson of hope goes on and on, and the soloists are struggling in their own way – but, together with the orchestral players in this drama, they are helping each other by telling the story that defines who they are now. We want to give a sense that on another night the soloists could adopt different roles – no one of them is ‘Jesus’, for example, or the thoughtful Evangelist, but each has a relationship to the story they are committed to sharing.