Last week I got a phone call when traveling back from work. It was one of my former colleagues from the Academy of Vocal Arts (I taught singing there for 12 years). The choirs are going to perform Bach’s St. Matthew Passion next Easter, with an orchestra, and they were still looking for soloists. They wanted to know if I would be available and able to sing the solo soprano part!
I had to think about this question. I have always longed to sing this part someday, but never did it before (just the separate arias sometimes). The soprano part of the St. Matthew Passion is quite hard. There are three arias, one duetto and one small part at the end (and possibly the minor recitativos of Pilatus’s wife and a maid – but those parts are often sung by choristers). The Passion is written for two choirs and two orchestras (old school stereo!), and the solo parts are also tied either the one or the other choir plus orchestra.
In the first half of the Passion, there are two soprano arias: Blute nur, about the betrayal of Jesus by the snakelike Judas, and Ich will Dir mein Herze schenken (plus recitativo), a very joyful aria, with an accompaniment of fagotto and two oboes. The first aria is quite high, strong and dramatic, where the second is much lower and more playful. They seem to have been written for different voice types… which may be true, since one is for the solo soprano from choir 1 and the other for the solo soprano from choir 2.
Then there is the third aria in the second half of the Passion, Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben. This is a center stone to the whole work. It is written for soprano, traverso and two oboes da caccia (curved oboes, that are quite hard to play), and it tessitura is very high, with long lines that test your breathing technique to its limit. This is the aria that made me want to think about it a bit. It’s hard, and on the high side for me, but I really love the music. It’s so very vulnerable. This is the only person speaking up, in the midst of the mob that wants to crucify Jesus. After which they just keep on shouting. It’s the heart of the Passion, which gives it an enormous weight: it should be perfect.
I took some time in the next days to try to sing the different arias and I actually could do them quite well, including the hard one. It may be a whole different story when I’m nervous, but I still have five months to practice and become more secure. I also found out that the performance will be done with a tuning of A=415 Hz (nowadays the A is 440 Hz, a semitone higher), which makes a big difference to how the arias feel in your voice. So I let the organization know that I’d love to do it!
On Sunday we finalized the agreemen. The first day of daylight saving time. It seems appropriate that I will sing this concert on the first day after the daylight saving time ends: March 29, 2015. Here, in the Hague, in the Nieuwe Kerk. I’m already looking forward to it!