It has been my privilege over the past two weeks to sing in the chorus of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under conductor Simon Rattle and director Peter Sellars in a staged production of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion. The experience has been life changing for some of my colleagues; it has certainly been unique. Dressed in black casual clothing, we spend much of the performance sauntering around the stage making abstract gestures intended to highlight certain words and distill the myriad emotions found in the music. Some find this effective; others find it silly.
Sellars’s forte as a director is his ability to communicate to his performers the unbridled emotion that he wants us to give to the performance, exhibiting for us rage, sadness, pain, calm or gratitude in his direction one moment, and then resuming his always cheerful manner in the next.