English Touring Opera’s latest presentation is Bach’s St John Passion, but their approach is not operatic in the sense of staging the work with the trappings of costume and props. Neither is it touring in the conventional way of a production doing the rounds. Rather, ETO’s soloists and regular accompanists, the Old Street Band, are working at each venue with choruses from within that community, in a natural extension of the company’s outreach and education programme.
The impact of the opening chorus Herr, unser Herrscher, delivered by the joint forces of the Cantamus Chamber Choir, the Wiltshire Music Centre Chorus and choristers from St Laurence School with a considerable body of sound, was testimony enough to a worthy endeavour.
ETO’s most imaginative and radical intervention has been commissioning new English translations of the words of the Bach chorales, each from a different writer and embracing a wide range of beliefs. It underlines very strongly a basic principle of Bach’s structuring of the passion, where the communal voices of the Leipzig community would have joined in the periodic choral commentary and corporate affirmation. Thus John McCarthy’s experience as a hostage in Beirut brings a particular force to the chorale that focuses on Christ’s capture, and the vehemence with which the voices articulated Giles Fraser’s words “Drenched in spit and mockery” adds a vivid contemporary resonance.
RIAN EVANS - THE GUARDIAN