Ethan Iverson at Threepenny Review:
Classical music is often bedeviled by the simple question “How do you make an audience truly engaged without pandering?” Peter Sellars’s staging of the St. Matthew Passion was one of most successful answers I’ve ever seen.
Part of the magic was how local everything was. The Berlin Philhar-monic is surely one of the most august organizations in the world, but there they were, right down the steps from us, looking a bit uncomfortable. They even sounded uncomfortable at times: the viola da gamba seemed a bit raw and out of tune, the violin obbligato for the the famous aria “Erbarme dich, Mein Gott” was determinedly ahead of the beat. The first night the final chorus of part one, “O Mensch,” was out of sync in a way closer to Charles Ives than Bach. On the second night, the orchestra played a cue before the Evangelist was in place and had to restart. Probably they were just momentarily wrong-footed by the pauses built in by Sellars: in any other production of St. Matthew, the continuo plays everything more or less right on the heels of the previous event. At the Armory, we waited to see what would happen next.