In March 2016, Cleveland-based baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire gave seven performances of a dramatic production of the St John Passion in Cleveland and New York City. Drawing on the work’s inherently operatic structure of storytelling on the one hand and musical reflection on the other, these performances were understandably popular with audiences and critics alike. Conceived and directed by the orchestra’s founder, Jeannette Sorrell, this production places the characters on a central platform where they act out the drama. Reflective arias are sung away from the platform, at the front of the stage. Another spatial element involves placing half the chorus among the audience for the lengthy interchange between the crowd and Pilate.
Sorrell has a particularly ardent Evangelist in Nicholas Phan who enthrals both as storyteller and tenor soloist. Jesse Blumberg brings dignity and clarity to the role of Jesus, while Jeffrey Strauss reveals the compromised humanity of Pilate. The other soloists (Amanda Forsythe, soprano; Terry Wey, countertenor and Christian Immler, baritone) deliver utterly committed performances borne along by the buoyant instrumental accompaniment. Sorrell directs from the organ with an admirably unfussy continuo style.
If you have room for one more St John Passion, do consider this version, which has passion to spare.