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Notes and Editorial Reviews
A Ballet by John Neumeier
Peter Schreier, tenor (Evangelist and Arias)
Bernd Weikl, bass (Jesus)
Mitsuko Shirai, soprano
Marga Schiml, alto
Franz Grundheber, bass
Knabenchor St. Michaelis
St. Michaelis Hamburg Choir and Orchestra
Günter Jena, conductor
John Neumeier, choreography, staging, scenery and costumes
Recorded live from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, 2005.
John Sebastian Bach‘s Matthew Passion has deeply moved me. Bach‘s musical incarnation of the Passion in both its general and personal aspects created the need in me to find a choreographic equivalent. I am
both Christian and a dancer. My whole life, all my thought and feeling are the dance, and choreography is my real language. That is why I have attempted to express my own religious convictions and experiences in choreographic terms and to organize them in artistic form. In my entire career as a choreographer, I have never known a period in which I enjoyed such complete harmony with the dancers, as I have enjoyed throughout the creation of the St. Matthew Passion. It was a period of learning from one another, of experiencing instinctively together the emotion of text and music, of positive cooperation and concentration. Even if this ballet had never got beyond rehearsals and had never been performed, the process of its creation will remain the most profound experience of my working life. -- John Neumeier
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 211 mins
No. of DVDs: 3 (2x DVD 9, 1x DVD 5)
R E V I E W:
"Neumeier’s working relationship with the Passion began more than three decades ago, and his version of it has been performed more than a hundred times—sometimes with Neumeier himself as Christ. The performance presented here was the final one in which the choreographer danced this role, so the emotional stakes are even higher than they would have been otherwise.
This is a complete performance of Bach’s Passion, danced to a recorded audio track dating from 1980. (More about that later.) For the dancers, this is a true ensemble work, even though different dancers at times step forward and take on specific roles. Every dancer is involved in the performance at all times, if not actively, then at least as a reflecting surface for what is occurring elsewhere on the stage.
The recitatives advance the plot, as it were, and Neumeier’s use of pantomime in these sections is skilled. In the arias and choruses, the dancers, by themselves or in groupings of various sizes, create visual metaphors for what is being expressed in the texts or in the music. Neumeier, not a classicist by any means, is not afraid to go against the grain in these metaphors, although in doing so he never seems perverse, sacrilegious, or simply self-indulgent. For example, the static text and stately music of “Ich will dir mein Herze schenken” is accompanied by furious stage action, but the strength of Neumeier’s vision and faith (he declares himself a Christian in the booklet notes) are not in doubt. Any performance of the Passion is exhausting; this one is no less so.
Conductor Günter Jena’s 1980 performance of the Passion has been tied to Neumeier’s choreography from the beginning. I know nothing about Jena, and it would be silly to claim he has conducted a performance of the Passion that is particularly suited to dancing. He was an assistant to Karl Richter, and has maintained a deep relationship with this particular work throughout his career. His conducting is both graceful and grave. The soloists, for the most part, need no introduction, although I will add that Peter Schreier sometimes sounds a little more strained than I would expect him to be at this stage in his career. None of the singing is larger than life; instead, it has a humility and sincerity that suit the dancing. Similarly, the choir, while not at all unpolished, impresses one more with its devotion and its comfort with the idiom than with its technical perfection. This is a performance almost anyone would be glad to hear, even without dancing. With the dancing, its impact is intensified.
The camerawork is a little more restless than I would like, and this is one of those DVDs that allows the viewer to select multiple viewing angles. (No thanks; that is the job of the video editor, as far as I am concerned.) The image and the sound are excellent. I first became acquainted with Neumeier through his insightful reimagining of Delibes’s Sylvia for the Paris Opera Ballet. This, while very different, is no less good."
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Mitsuko Shirai (Mezzo Soprano),
Bernd Weikl (Baritone),
Franz Grundheber (Baritone),
Peter Schreier (Tenor),
Marga Schiml (Mezzo Soprano)
Hanover Boys' Choir,
St. Michaelis Boys' Choir,
St. Michaelis Choir
Written: Circa 1727; Leipzig, Germany
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
SUBSTANDARD PACKAGING August 5, 2012
By James Komar (Saskatoon, SK) See All My Reviews
"Terrible packaging! This is a ballet set to music, some of the greatest music of the Western world. But it is primarily vocal music, music sung to words. Only no libretto or subtitles are provided. So you don't know what the words are unless you have a libretto of your own or happen to know the words by memory. How, then, can you judge the choreography? Considering the high cost of the production, such substandard packaging is unacceptable. Don't buy unless your German and your hearing are way above average."