Another highlight of my summer term at the RNCM was taking part in a performance of the Bach St John Passion, conducted by David Hill and with Nicholas Mulroy as Evangelist. Choruses were sung by the RNCM Chamber Choir and soloists for the arias had also been drawn from the student body; I was delighted to perform “Ich folge dir gleichfalls” and a (tiny) bit of recitative as Ancilla.
One-on-one rehearsals with RNCM répétiteur Benedict Kearns started early; these were sessions to double-check (and triple-check!) note values and pitches and to work on phrasing and interpretation. In order to fully understand the story of the Passion, I also attended a lecture given by Mark Bonnington (St John College, Durham University) that explored perspectives of the account, possible reasons for musical setting and generally answered the “who”, “what” and “why” of the text.
We then received instruction from Lynne Dawson (Head of Vocal Studies and Opera) and Roger Hamilton (Fellow in Historical Performance); it was crucial to ensure that German pronunciation was accurate and that trills were appropriate to the period. I also took my aria to a masterclass with baritone Christopher Purves: this further helped me to shape the phrases and bring a feeling of joy to the aria’s couplets. After all: it’s meant to be happy!
The final rehearsals took place in the week of the concert. These sessions were hugely beneficial not to just as a performer, but as an observer; there was so much to learn from David, Nicholas and Amanda Babington (of the RNCM and numerous period ensembles). The staging of arias and recits, using different levels and some in the centre of the stage, allowed us to feel a sense of immediacy with our words.
The performance was a great success; one online reviewer wrote that “the staging was simple but stunningly effective, the performances perfectly pitched” (full review here). Many thanks to all those who came to watch us; it was an amazing feeling to sing to a sold-out Concert Hall. Thanks also to those who gave us instruction and inspired us – and congratulations to all performers. It was a great honour to be involved!