I debated writing this post, as I hate coming across as a pretentious posh git, but I guess I am, so I’ll post it. So, have you ever heard music so perfect it makes you weap? I did (again) on Saturday. Its LL’s birthday this week, and I managed to bag some tickets to Glyndbourne. Its technically a private music festival, and tickets can be hard to come by, but there’s always a ways and means. We went to see an operatic setting of Bach’s “St. Mathews Passion”.
First, Glyndebourne is always a treat. Its a gorgeous setting, and everyone gets dressed to the nines (DJs, Leisure suits and Evening Gowns). You arrive early and wander about with a Pims or Champers through the gardens, settle in for the first act, have a long intermission for dinner, then have the second act. Traditionally dinner is a picnic on the lawn, and people go all out for this. Because of the horrid weather this summer, I booked us into one of the restaurants. Got that one wrong, though it was a lovely meal.
But… what you go to Glyndbourne for is the music. St. Mathew’s Passion is one of my favourite pieces. There is music I would have everyone in the world listen to. Some pieces need to be heard live. As good as technology is, there is no replacement for hearing with all the emotion, interactions and even mistakes. I’ve heard this piece done live three times before, and this was easily the best. These were performers at the top of their craft, with a conductor who knew exactly how to bring the best out.
There are perhaps 10 pieces I would have everyone listen to, and wish beyond hope that they could hear it done with such joy and perfection. True, it was a fairly odd staging. The Passion is just a story, meant to be told to the faithful. Bach’s piece is a musical telling of it, meant to be done simply. To translate it into opera, the director placed it in a school. There was tragedy, and the parents where together to watch a mummers play to help them with the grief at the death of their children.
I was sceptical that this would work, some of the critics had been scathing. One said that taking an core Christian piece into an aethiestic setting was just wrong. It didn’t come across that way at all, as a telling of the passion, it worked. However, the director was being a bit too clever. To keep the action moving on stage during the music, there was often odd little set pieces. All were allusions or pieces of symbolism. Most I got, but a few still escape my best thoughts. If anyone has a clue why the evangelist (St Matthew, the narrator) would peel and chop an apple, then rub the bits into his face, I’d love to know. Though some where complimentory, some where just a distraction, like the apple thing. Also, the staging itself, though appropriate, was done without accoustics in mind. Given the director often had the singers facing away from the audiance, it muddled the sound. That’s nie on unforgivable in my books.
Mostly though, the music just took me. With the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit, you can’t go wrong. They play with a core belief of using the instruments and techniques of the Baroque age. Thus, for example, you get the music on 17th century harpsicords and organs. They are also all consumate musicians (the orchestra is player led), and every time I’ve heard them, the music can not be faulted. Nor could it that night, not a wrong note was played.
The song also was a joy. The music moves between chorus and solo, with pieces using the full vocal range. There are segments of such perfection I wept. Jesus in the temple, facing the roar of the croud to crucify him shakes your soul. Then the lament of Mary Magdelaine, done with a solo soprano with oboe and flute fills you with grief. I could go on (and on), but it was a truely lovely evening. I just wish everyone could hear it that way.