The People's Passion
is a BBC/NVC Arts co-production, originally shown on BBC in short instalments, but presented here as a single 50-minute programme. This is a musical version of the story of Holy Week, the narrator sung by the leading American opera star Jessye Norman, commenting on the action played-out by a very familiar British television cast. The use of modern dress and readily identifiable faces such as Robert Hardy (Pilate), Patricia Hodge (Procula), Ron Moody (The Donkey Minder) and Kevin Whatley (Judas) is an excellent device to stress the contemporary relevance of the story. Though if this is the aim, it is a brave move to refuse to "dumb down" musically, Donald Fraser's score being more in the English classical tradition of Vaughan-Williams' Pilgrim's Progress
, than a populist Jesus Christ, Superstar
musical. Rather old-fashioned, too, is the portrayal of Jesus, who does not speak but is danced in Spirit by Jonathan Cope, and given voice by the boys of St Paul's Cathedral Choir. With Thomas Allen also appearing as The Centurion--in rather more dignified style than John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told
--this is a direct, uncluttered and highly effective version of The Passion.
On the DVD: The picture is presented at approximately 1.7:1 ratio, but lacking anamorphic enhancement for widescreen televisions. The sound, disappointingly for a 1999 production, is PCM stereo. The booklet offers biographies of only Jessye Norman and Jonathan Cope, but does not include the libretto, which can be printed out via a DVD-ROM. The programme can be viewed with or without English subtitles. --Gary S. Dalkin
Artist: Jessye NormanManufacturer: CLASSICAL