At the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, on Saturday, the Ealing Choral Society gave a performance of Bach’s St John’s Passion. Musically the orchestra, the soloists and the choir were all admirable, especially in the second act. What was lacking, and for me this coloured full enjoyment of the evening, was any sense of theatre.
This may have been a deliberate acknowledgement of the ‘intellectual depths’ of the composer. Or it may have been in part a function of the space which is impressive but undoubtedly a hall rather than a theatre or concert venue. The audience and the performers share equally bright, flat, overhead lighting and the separation between the two groups is minimal, with the stage little more than a step-up.
There was none of the usual ‘buzz of anticipation’ as soloists and conductor sauntered on and the performance started almost apologetically. Nor was there much buzz at the close. Theatre was lacking.
It is sacrilege perhaps to draw comparison between a pitch and and a performance of Bach’s sacred music except that both in their different ways seek some emotional response from an audience. A pitch that fails to do this, fails.
The Moulin Rouge may be a step too far but you do not have to be a Baz Lurhmann to stage your pitch in a way that sets it apart and makes it memorable. Some thoughts on how to do this are in the Best practice guide: Content and Staging