Campfield Market, Manchester
By Claire Roberts,
A curious audience stood in Manchester’s Victorian market hall, awaiting the arrival of the cast. With the 10-piece orchestra tuned, a van reversed into the building, from which performers clambered out and wandered towards the stage. Among them were renowned vocalists The Sixteen, as well as participants from The Booth Centre support for homeless people.
This was the latest production from Streetwise Opera, the charity that uses music to help people who have experienced homelessness, and it was characteristically ambitious. James MacMillan was behind the shortened adaption of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and praise is due for the translation, alterations and tasteful delivery from the pit. String players used a mix of Baroque and modern bows, piano replaced harpsichord, and a superb wind section glimmered with vibrant flautists Thomas Hancox and Alexandra Jakeman.
Director Penny Woolcock undertook masterful storytelling, fully embracing the size and scope of the hall. The story drifted between different parts of the room to fantastic effect. Particularly outstanding was the staging of Erbarme diche, the alto soloist winding her way through the audience followed by a wandering violinist, the understatedly bewitching Sarah Sexton.
As for the singing, it was, unsurprisingly, hit and miss. Eight different voices sang Jesus, untrained and therefore amplified with microphones, each actor handing over to the next by passing on a blue robe. But while the musical expertise of amateurs might seem incompatible with the likes of faultless tenor Joshua Ellicott and the unified voices of The Sixteen, Streetwise Opera is a refreshing project and a wake-up call that forces all areas of the arts to turn their heads and look. The intense commitment to the performance culminated in a joyful finale that saw genuine emotion flowing from the faces on stage.