My friends and family will no doubt see the title of this post and wonder what’s different, but this month, there seems to be even more baroque music going on in my life than usual, with my first ever chance to see live baroque opera, and my first ever St Matthew Passion.
I’m halfway through a longish rehearsal break from Bach’s St Matthew Passion – circumstances have conspired so that I won’t be singing it again until mid-November, just a couple of weeks before the concert. It’s never far from my mind though, particularly after the onslaught of thoughts that were stirred up by our Come and Sing workshop a couple of weeks ago.
Baroque opera has been a surprisingly recent discovery for me. It’s so obviously the sort of thing I would like — there’s an intoxicating mix of passion, bad behaviour, sex, tragedy, strong female characters, lots of semiquavers, and, sometimes, recorders — that I wonder what took me so long. There’s more of it about these days, which helps, but what’s really made a difference for me is the internet; I can listen to performances on Radio 3, watch streamed productions and explore things on Spotify. I’m getting quite a taste for it, but I’ve never seen any live performances,
Those of you who regularly worship in cathedrals will probably be welcoming back your full-time choirs this weekend; children, lay-clerks and choral scholars all well-rested and raring to go. But who sings while they’re away? During the holidays, British cathedrals are invaded by an army of school choirs, college choirs, touring choirs from overseas, and ad hoc groups like the one I sing with.
I’ll be spending most of this weekend in Gloucester cathedral. I’m in the visiting choir singing the weekend’s services, which is a delight in itself, and by an amazing, happy coincidence, it’s the same weekend as Sarah Connolly’s Ivor Gurney festival, so I’ll be reviewing the evening concert.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about the relationship between listening to music and watching a performance. A couple of things set me off wondering whether it’s important to be able to see clearly at a concert, and why we so often want to. On the other hand, with opera the answer to this ought to be obvious – surely, we want to see it, and this always put me off listening to operas that I hadn’t seen staged, but my responses to recent Radio 3 opera broadcasts, above all Daniel Barenboim’s extraordinary BBC Proms Ring Cycle have changed …