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Christina Pluhar on Via Crucis, Ensemble Barbara Furtuna, and the Mystery Play

In anticipation of L'Arpeggiata's Via Crucis concert on March 15, Artistic Director Christina Pluhar discusses the difficult gestation of the project, introduces Ensemble Barbara Furtuna, and explains the mystery plays that form the basis for Via Crucis.

Via Crucis: The Project

Via Crucis was a project that was in my heart for many years. The idea of putting together Baroque songs and traditional songs is based on the idea that we know as the rappresentazioni sacras, the mystery plays, that were developed in the 17th century and are still alive in Europe in various forms.

It's quite a difficult subject to put together, because there is so much wonderful repertoire on this theme, from traditional as well as from composed music. Also in traditional music, it's just so profound and overwhelming. It's very touching music that you find on those texts. I've never heard a Stabat Mater that was boring or that didn't touch me.

So the big problem, actually, was to eliminate many things that were as beautiful as the things that we finally chose to include in the project. It took a long time to come down to the final selections. It took about five years to record the CD, and to think and rethink and eliminate and rechoose and finally create the Via Crucis.

Barbara Furtuna

Actually, I think the special color of Via Crucis is the collaboration with the vocal ensemble Barbara Furtuna, which has been so wonderful for us. We created the program with these fantastic singers from Corsica. They have such a wonderful way of singing, which is extremely archaic. Sometimes you see groups of singers in sculptures from the Middle Ages. They usually stay very close together. Sometimes they hold each other, or they touch shoulders, and they read from one part. You can see in those early medieval paintings or sculptures that the singers had very close physical contact. They breathed together and faced each other. It's like it all comes from one body.

With Ensemble Barbara Furtuna, they look like they come from one of those medieval works of art. They have wonderful body language, and they phrase and breathe together. The ornamentations that they use are a melting pot of so many cultures. It's absolutely amazing. For me, it's again an example of some very ancient kind of culture that might have been alive in the 11th century. You could hear the polyphonic chants at that time. And that's what they do now. It's fascinating to work with these performers because you can learn so much about the intensity and the ensemble work. It's fantastic. They are such incredible people and wonderful performers. I am, myself, always overwhelmed by them when I'm next to them and hear them sing. It's just such a strong experience.


L'Arpeggiata and Barbara Fortuna perform "Maria"

The Mystery Play

A mystery play [on which Via Crucis is based] is a kind of opera—a sacred opera—that was performed during Holy Week. It's something very ancient. You find the first descriptions of medieval mystery plays in the 11th century, and a lot in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 17th century, it was really like a staged opera performed in the church or outside of the church with actors, with dancers, with machinery like you have in the opera. For example, they'd have angels flying or hell scenes or very Baroque scenery to tell all aspects of the Passion of Christ. But they also included other stories that they wanted to tell, from the creation of the world until the end of the world. All this was done in a very theatrical way.

It is a very archaic tradition that is still alive today in very different forms in many parts of Europe. For example, in Spain they have processions, they do the chants, they do the percussion, and many different rappresentazioni. Then we have different traditions in Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and in the south of Italy. We still have some traditions also in Bulgaria. Throughout all the south European countries, you have very different mystery plays still happening.


L'Arpeggiata performs "Ciaccona"

Perspectives: L'Arpeggiata
March 14, L'Arpeggiata: Los pajaros perdidos
March 15, L'Arpeggiata: Via Crucis
March 16, L'Arpeggiata: La Tarantella: Antidotum Tarantulae
March 17, L'Arpeggiata: Los Impossibles: Spanish and Neapolitan Music from the 17th Century

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