Review: Ballet meets Opera in “St Matthew Passion”

Marc Jubete with the Hamburg Ballet ensemble in LA Opera's 2022 production of "St. Matthew Passion" Photo: Kiran West

Music and theater traditions blend in a unique production of St Matthew Passion at the LA Opera. Conducted by James Conlon, only the second time by anyone other than Gunter Jena, this is one for the books and not to be missed. 41 breathtaking dancers from the Hamburg Ballett unfurl choreographer John Neumeier’s ballet set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1727 sacred oratorio for solo voices, choir, and orchestra.

Marc Jubete, Pablo Poro and Florian Pohl with the Hamburg Ballet ensemble in LA Opera’s 2022 production of “St. Matthew Passion” Photo: Kiran West

Saturday’s opening was particularly moving considering that many of the dancers come from Europe, and have families that are significantly affected by current events. The show began with a rousing performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem to show solidarity and honor the courage of the Ukrainian people, and received a standing ovation.

The Hamburg Ballet in LA Opera’s 2022 production of “St. Matthew Passion”

For those accustomed to just the oratorio, the ballet may require some adjusting as it is the focal point of the production. Singers Joshua Blue (tenor), Michael Samuel (bass-baritone), Tamara Wilson (soprano), Susan Graham Bliss (mezzo-soprano), Ben Bliss (tenor), and Kristinn Sigmundsson (bass) are superbly present even as they deliver their formidable voices from the orchestra pit; as is the chorus, seated behind a screen and bathed in soft amber light at the rear of the starkly minimalist stage.

Xue Lin with the Hamburg Ballet ensemble in LA Opera’s 2022 production of “St. Matthew Passion” Photo: Kiran West

Not enough praise can be given to the impressively diverse ballet company, but Mark Jubete from Spain as a ruminative yet smoldering Jesus is mesmerizing as he tackles the understandably more somatic role; and Xue Lin from Beijing is a radiant and heartbreaking disciple. At a running time of four hours including one intermission the show may feel like a daunting commitment, but not when you consider the significance of such a groundbreaking endeavor and, of course, the epicness of the savior’s story.

— G. Dhalla

St Matthew Passion is playing at the LA Opera through March 27th. Tickets HERE.