Los Angeles Master Chorale Bring Peter Sellars’s Remarkable Lasso Staging to London

25/05/2019

Orlando di Lasso: Los Angeles Master Chorale / Grant Gershan (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, 23.5.2019. (CC)

Lagrime di San Pietro (c) Tom Howard/Barbican

Orlando di Lasso – Lagrime di San Pietro (1594)

Director – Peter Sellars
Lighting designer – Jim Fingalis
Costume designer – Danielle Dominique Sumi
Stage manager – Pamela Salling

Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of St. Peter) was completed in 1594, the year of the composer’s death. It is a cycle of 20 madrigals (madrigali spirituali, to be exact) plus one motet for seven voices, of 20 texts by Luigi Tansilio, plus one by Philippe de Grève (the last, ‘Vide homo’: Jesus’ words, ‘See, man, how I suffer for you’) for seven voices. The number seven is important, clearly, and this performance allocated three voices each to the seven voices, giving a total of 21 performers (plus conductor). Interesting how this trinity saturates so much music (including the Stockhausen Donnerstag performed the previous evening); and also how here there is a shadow of the Trinity: the three times Peter denies Jesus.

The intent of this staging is to ‘connect to the profound humanity of the piece’, as we heard in the pre-performance discussion between Grant Gershan and Peter Sellars. Perhaps an intermediary/interviewer might have helped here – there was lots of mutual admiration – but both men spoke eloquently of the power of Lasso’s late masterpiece, a work defined by its ‘disquiet and turmoil’. The piece was described as a ‘rumination on what it is to grow old, to lose your memory, to become untethered’.

Sellers and Garshan with the Los Angeles Master Chorale worked on Messiaen’s Saint François at Salzburg; the present staging of di Lasso originated in 2011, when the two were working on Vivaldi’s Griselda at Santa Fe opera. This is Sellars’s first a cappella staging, a meditation on regret, self-blame and the nature of memory. Here, a single person’s crisis is enacted by a community (a choir). Dressed in shades of grey and barefoot, the choir performs from memory (Gershan also conducts from memory, and is also barefoot for that matter).

The gestures of figures in Renaissance painting inform the gestures of the choir throughout. The idea that ‘we all hear better if we can see what’s happening’ is another determining factor that led to the birth of this staging; and as the piece progresses, we both hear and see a procession of tableaux that speak of unutterable suffering. The surtitles are left on after a line is sung, deliberately, emphasising the power of the text.

The Barbican acoustic’s lack of resonance laid bare the music’s vulnerability, adding a fragility to the experience although inevitably, perhaps, one did hanker for some extra sonic bloom given the remarkable harmonies Lasso creates. Comparisons with music written at the end of composers’ lives such as the late Beethoven Quartets – particularly the slow movements – are entirely apt. The lighting was astonishing, a vital part of the experience, at one point even playing a part in illustrating the melting of snow. At another juncture, the choir looked like prisoners in a prison yard – just as Saint Peter was imprisoned by his past. At times it was as if we could see Lasso’s lines intertwining with each other. The performance standard was remarkably high throughout, a choir rigorously rehearsed and, perhaps more importantly, absolutely immersed in this most powerful of experiences.

To present this as a feat of memory is remarkable; the piece unfolds as a long plateau of regret-laden grief. Sellars’s Matthäus-Passion at the Proms in 2014 was incredibly touching; this Lagrime, too, resonates on.

Colin Clarke

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River 2019 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • NEW! MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month