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Folk Choir depicts Christ’s Passion for a second year

| Thursday, April 13, 2023

Emma Kirner | The Observer

On the evening of Good Friday, the Notre Dame Folk Choir presented their much-anticipated work, “The Passion,” under a clear, starry sky on South Quad. I attended last year’s debut of “The Passion” and was markedly impressed, so naturally, I was excited to experience it again. This production managed to exceed any and all expectations. Although I witnessed the wonderful birth of “The Passion” last Easter, I must confess, this year’s performance was personally transformative.

The performance on April 7 marked the conclusion of the tour through the East Coast in support of the album. The staging was directed by Matt Hawkins, director of musical theater at Notre Dame, and the tour featured an all-student cast. In addition to this series of performances, the Folk Choir recorded an album that was released on major music platforms on Ash Wednesday. The album was produced by Joe Henry, a three-time Grammy winner, and was recorded in Jerusalem at the end of the choir’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Marcelle Couto | The Observer

I had the privilege of reviewing last year’s “Passion,” and must preface my thoughts by stating, with all certainty, that my first encounter with “The Passion” remains profound. What this year’s “Passion” did was merely increase the original merits of that production and emphasize its pointed effectual impacts, while also adding creative twists and incorporating a more active dialogue with the audience. In short, “The Passion” of Good Friday hit home for me due to the influence of a perfectly-suited environment, well-directed stylistic details and in particular, because of an innovative approach to staging.

Last year’s performance, held in the more formal setting of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, was impressive in its own right. However, this year’s open stage allowed the choir to truly shine, with the natural surroundings adding to the beauty and power of the music. The style of music of “The Passion” was a perfect match for the open-air setting on South Quad. As the sun set and the stars emerged, the music took on a luminous quality that was mirrored by the glow of the fires in the heaters placed around the perimeter of the stage. The stars above, the cool, clear evening and the warmth of the fires below created a magical atmosphere that perfectly complemented the choir’s performance. The setting was perfectly suited to the genre of music, which was both spiritual and earthy, blending soaring melodies with modern styles.

Marcelle Couto | The Observer

The staging, which was centered around a large table, was also a perfect fit for the open-air setting. The table served as the focal point for all the actions on stage. This approach was highly effective in bringing the audience closer to the story and making them feel like they were a part of the drama unfolding before them. I recognized the story’s familiar beginning with the grief of Holy Saturday, but the weight of that hopeless reality was significantly more emotive. As the characters recalled the events of the Passion narrative beginning with the Last Supper, I noted the theme of a communal experience of emotion as well as a collective immersion in the mysteries of faith. The union of peoples was, of course, especially represented by the Folk Choir coming together to create a harmonious work of praise. It was all made more evident and properly symbolized through the central table.

As the story progressed, Jesus suffered, carried his cross and eventually died on top of the table, creating a clear allegory of the holy sacrifice of the Mass. This moment was especially poignant and left a weighty impact on the audience, as evidenced by the silence of awe and wonder I perceived at that moment. It seemed like a certain pressure of gravity had infected the air.

Marcelle Couto | The Observer

The acting was also highly impressive and aided in immersing the audience in the experience. The actors delivered their lines with raw emotion and sincerity that made the story feel like it was happening in real-time. The Last Supper imagery was especially powerful and added a layer of spiritual significance to the performance.

The screen encompassing the back of the stage was an effective tool that helped emphasize some of the most important themes of the work. The word “Remember” was prominently displayed in the opening scene, for instance, reminding the audience of the role that human memory has to play in feeding the burning flame of faith. The art and illustrations that followed the music were also marvelously attractive, inviting the audience to take an ecstatic journey.

Furthermore, the choir’s style of music blended traditional hymn-like melodies and contemporary folk music, which created a unique musical combination. The music in “The Passion” featured various instruments, such as guitars, violins and drums, that added depth and texture to the performance. The blend of genres in “The Passion” was intentional and served to evoke a range of emotions from the audience. The hymn-like tunes were used to create a sense of reverence and awe, while the contemporary folk music provided a more personal and emotional connection to the story. The combination of these different styles of music helped to create a powerful and moving performance that transcended traditional musical boundaries.

Moreover, the choir’s use of various musical styles throughout the performance was also reflective of the story’s emotional arc. The music started with a somber and reflective tone, mirroring the solemnity of Holy Saturday. As the story progressed, the music became more lively and hopeful, representing the eventual triumph over death and the Resurrection of Christ. It not only showcased the versatility and talent of the Notre Dame Folk Choir but also contributed to the powerful emotional impact of the production.

Overall, the performance of “The Passion” by the Notre Dame Folk Choir was an unforgettable experience that left a lasting impression. The combination of beautiful music, powerful staging and impressive acting created a deeply spiritual and emotional experience that left the audience feeling uplifted and inspired. 

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About Marcelle Couto

Marcelle was born in Rochester, Minnesota, but she was raised in São Paulo, Brazil. She is a Sophomore double-majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies together with the joint Philosophy & Theology major, with a minor in Digital Marketing. Marcelle lives in Cavanaugh and loves the hall's spirit of "Embracing the Chaos".

Contact Marcelle