Passion, Lament, Glory. Photo: Sarah Walker

Passion, Lament, Glory … a new take on an old story

Artistic director and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Jane Davidson is gearing up for a powerful Baroque music enactment of the Passion of Christ, at Melbourne’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral.

By Sarah Hall

Passion, Lament, Glory, a staging originally devised 15 years ago by Professor Jane Davidson of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, will be brought to life for the first time in Victoria at one of Melbourne’s most iconic cathedrals for two performances at the end of March and start of April.

The work, an enactment of the Passion of Christ that includes aerial artistry, is the second full-scale project to be staged by staff and students of the MCM’s Voice and Early Music Departments, following last year’s hugely successful performance of Marc-Antoine Carpentier’s  opera La descente d’Orphée aux enfers (1686).

Now, as then, the artistic team features Professor Davidson as artistic director, and the MCM’s Dr Erin Helyard and Stephen Grant as musical director and choral director respectively. Designer and Victorian College of the Arts alumnus Matthew Adey brings a suitably spectacular dose of visual flair to the proceedings.

The musical centerpiece of the performance will be Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – an 18th-century meditation on Mary’s suffering during Christ’s crucifixion.

The work’s soprano and alto roles are split between 12 talented female performers – a number that, of course, has a certain Biblical resonance.

“I imagine these twelve women as a close community, like twelve female disciples, supporting Mary and her loss,” says Professor Davidson. “And that’s not accidental. Essentially, I’m trying to attention to the fact that the whole story of Christianity has a very powerful female narrative – even though that’s not something we immediately think about today.”

The project’s themes – love, endurance, suffering, community, and particularly how humans share in grief and sorrow – are universal rather than exclusively religious, says Davidson. “I wanted the work to have that kind of resonance for everyone, whatever their culture or religion.”

Celebrated soprano Jacqueline Porter, an MCM graduate in Music (Performance), will be accompanied by an ensemble of top class Baroque music specialists in Handel’s Salve Regina; while 100 MCM singers will perform excerpts from Handel’s Messiah.  It’s probably safe to say the 126-year-old St Paul’s will provide a fitting backdrop for an enactment of this scale.

“Obviously, there’s the historical significance of St Paul’s as a place of worship,” says Professor Davidson. “I think it’s going to be very powerful for everyone in the audience – and for the performers too.”

The performance includes a lot of movement, so not a traditional oratorio-style presentation, says Professor Davidson – an ambition made easier by the fact many of the singers are also trained dancers.

But the most unusual movement spectacle in the piece will be performed by an aerial artist who, thanks to some vigorous rigging now being erected, will take to the gods in the Cathedral towards the end of the work. Award-winning artist Tim Rutty will draw the evening to an appropriate musical and visual high point.

A strong female narrative, breathtaking aerial artistry, beautiful music and massed choral voices reverberating through a spectacular cathedral in the heart of Melbourne – if that seems worthy of your faith, be sure to come along.

Passion, Lament, Glory will be performed at St Paul’s Cathedral, corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street, Melbourne, on 31 March and 1 April at 7.30pm. Admission: $30 Full / $15 Concession, bookings essentialPlease book tickets via EventBrite.

Banner image: Sarah Walker