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.
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.
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.
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.