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THE TIMES 6.9.2001

Robert Thicknesse

 

In the BAC´s main house Patricia Rozario gave a stunning display of concentrated emotion, acting and musicianship in Stephen McNeff´s Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe II. Accompanied by four instrumentalists on a darkened stage, Rozario acted out the roles in this reworking of an 18th century Mexican piece, now concerning the plight of southeast Mexico, a region where the Government is in conflict with Zapatista rebels.

 

THE STAGE 16.5.2002

 

In 1994 the Mexican government savagely put down the rebellious indigenous Mayans whom it had marginalized and deprived of their rights – one of the worst incidents being the massacre by paramilitaries of 36 unarmed women and children in a church of Acteal.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, who first appeared to Mayan Indian Juan Diego in December 1593, has become the symbol of the struggling people. Hence the form of Stephen McNeff´s moving tribute to the disenfranchised – a sung Matins for her in which a single soprano voices “ the prayers and memories” of women gathered in a church to honour the victims of the uprising.

The text combines 18th century psalms and hymns to the Virgin with first hand accounts of the uprising collated by the composer.

Scored for a quartet comprising violin, cello, clarinet, (including bass clarinet) and piano, the music frequently sounds lean and hungry, the instruments´ piercing upper registers conveying pain and anguish. Gentler episodes sparingly offer solace. A lush lyrical psalm ends the work.

 

The vocal writing is often angular, with wide intervallic neaps and urgent melismata, but it is also long breathed, wide arching and carries the soprano above the stave in soft pianissimos which the outstanding Patricia Rozario floats with exquisite control. She sings throughout with gleaming tone.

Her deeply moving performance is wholly without false histrionics. Matthias Janser´s direction finds both the quiet fortitude and the anger of the protagonist(s).