Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Lagrime di San Pietro review at Barbican, London – ‘potent staging of a Renaissance masterpiece’

Scene from Lagrime di San Pietro at Barbican Centre, London. Photo: Tom Howard
by -

On the day of the European parliamentary elections, to see Peter Sellars’ staged version of an a cappella Renaissance choral work, Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St Peter), was balm for the soul. In an absorbing performance at the Barbican Centre, Sellars and the Los Angeles Master Chorale present Lasso’s masterpiece as an allegory of the necessity of confronting the pain of the past in order to face the future.

In Lasso’s 20 madrigals, set to devotional poems by Luigi Tansillo (1510-68), the painful past belongs to none other than St Peter, now an anguished old man lamenting his disavowal of Jesus. The seven-part madrigals are divided among 21 singers, whose choreographed movements illuminate the emotional landscape. Like his singers, the Chorale’s admirable artistic director Grant Gershon has memorised the score and is in motion while performing.

Choral singers are not necessarily great dancers, although they can be good actors, and this makes it all the more human. Wearing plain, earth-toned clothing, the singers fall to the floor, drop to their knees, raise their hands in despair – their movements sometimes semaphore-like in a literal depiction of the text. It’s the smaller gestures, and the Chorale’s vocal prowess, that linger in the mind. The performance is also boosted by James F Ingalls’ evocative lighting and the use of surtitles directly above the singers.

Best known in this country for his opera collaborations with composer John Adams, Sellars’ potent staging of this Renaissance masterpiece continues his long history of tapping into the zeitgeist.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
A potent staging by Peter Sellars of a Renaissance masterpiece