Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Sealed Angel

The end of the past year and the beginning of this one have been rough, but it's important to find joy and beauty where you can. In my case, I'm gearing up to be a part of the most interesting Russian musical/dance performance I've been involved with since Boris Godunov (a production that I do need to revisit sometime on this blog. As a part of Amadeus Choir, I'm performing in Rodion Shchedrin's masterwork, The Sealed Angel, directed by Lars Scheibner and presented by Soundstreams. Shchedrin finished the piece in 1988 to coincide with the celebrations of the thousandth anniversary of Russia's conversion to Christianity. The piece merges sacred elements of Russian Orthodox church music with secular elements such as the solo flute that functions as the only instrumental backup for a largely a cappella piece.

In the introduction to our score, Markus Zahnhausen writes that the story of The Sealed Angel is that of "Nicholay Lsekov's 'Sealed Angel,' written in 1873," which "tells the story of an icon painter, Sevastyan, who lives amongst believers of the old order. Officials of the state have ruined the miraculous icon," (the angel) "by pouring hot sealing wax over it. At great pains Sevastyan has to go out and recover it and then laboriously restore it." Shchedrin does not retell this story in his piece, but uses liturgical texts that the piece references, and carries over its theme of art's eternal magic and beauty.

Lars Scheibner has been staging this piece since 2005 in various settings; here we're taking the place of his original Berlin Rundfunkchor. It's an honour to be part of such an expansive project. In Scheibner's staging, the choir moves throughout the piece, winding up in fourteen different formations around the dancers from ProArteDanza, in what Rundfunkchor's website defines as creating new structures, in a display of external versus internal forces. The dancers not only add another layer to the performance through their interpretive movement, but solve the difficult issue of visual interest during choir performances, of which there are usually few moments to hold the audience's attention.

Major movement rehearsals take place this weekend, and performances are Thursday, February 2nd, and Friday, February 3rd, at Koerner Hall, a venue that I hear has brilliant acoustics. If you get a chance, and we haven't sold out, check out this performance. It's really quite something.

For a taste, here is a promo clip (with footage from the 2005 Rundfunkchor performance).


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