With Easter fast approaching, renditions of the Passion of Christ are a regular occurrence. A couple of weeks ago I managed to see the spectacular performance of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion at the Berliner Philharmoniker with the Preussens Hofmusik Orchester, the Berlin Philharmonischer Chor and the Staats- und Domchor. Never before have I heard the whole three-hour piece in one sitting, and what better way than to hear it with such a talented orchestra and uplifting choir in an infamous concert hall designed specifically to provide the best acoustics. It was such an incredible evening; the music was so intense and affecting, particularly reminiscent of the story told. This level of poignancy was held by conductor Jörg-Peter Weigle at the end, when he held silence for a minute or two after the piece had finished, allowing the full weight of the piece and story to linger and absorb before the applause.
A different approach was seen this weekend just gone, as musical theatre collective Hauen und Stechen put on their own modern and fantastical revision of Matthäus-Passion at Galerie Steiner. With several members of the Berlin Philharmonischer Chor participating, the music was again, entirely exquisite beyond words. Beginning outside the gallery and gradually progressing inside, the choir paved a path while an opera-singing rabbit led the audience down through a trap door into the cellar maze of the gallery. Elements throughout the piece continued to be evocative of both Christian components as well as universal fairytales and artistic ideals.
Underground in these cold, austere close-quarters, the audience were transported into another world. Each room they were directed to had a unique concept and set design that provided plenty of intriguing surprises – such as a mysteriously lit forest, an Easter egg workshop complete with bunny-workers busily operating it and a bedroom belonging to Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Short sketches were performed in each of these rooms, accompanied by extracts of Matthäus-Passion. The entire thing was truly spectacular, having been carefully choreographed, impressively orchestrated and flawlessly executed by all actors, singers and crew.
Concluding the performance, the audience were brought back up to ground level and steered outside where a fire was awaiting, encircled by the choir for the finale. The core theme brought back to attention as the choir sang their final extract of the Passion whilst lifting pieces of burning wood into the air, reminiscent of the Easter Vigil. It was an extremely powerful and exhilarating finish, with only the fire and the a capella harmony illuminating the dark night.