Verdigris Ensemble’s performance of The Little Match Girl Passion was a gorgeous event on Friday and Saturday at Moody Performance Hall, the second in the season for the Dallas-based choral group, sharing the stage with Avant Chamber Ballet in a program that was beautifully resonant and the first collaboration of its kind in Dallas.
Live accompaniment was a theme of the evening, first, as the Dallas-based Cézanne Quartet accompanied the dancers of Avant Chamber Ballet performing excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
Then, the program turned to its main subject: David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion as interpreted vocally by Verdigris, but also, in an embellishment that brought depth and pathos, by an original choreography performed by Avant’s dancers.
Lang won a Pulitzer Prize for his choral work, which takes as its basis the story penned by Dutch fable writer Hans Christian Andersen about a young waif who succumbs to the cold on New Year’s Eve, passers-by having shunned the matches she meagerly offers for sale and then strikes futilely for warmth.
In his notes, Lang writes, “There are many ways to tell this story… What has always interested me, however, is that Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of [Christ]. The girl suffers, is scorned by the crowd, dies, and is transfigured. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story if one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have traditionally done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus.”
Under founder and artistic director Sam Brukhman, Verdigris’s singers are remarkable in their versatility and command of articulation and nuanced tonal quality, picking up on the Passion’s transcendent, ethereal qualities. The final result was shimmering in its terrible beauty.
Like a Greek chorus, the 16 members appeared without dancers at opening and end, filing onto the stage’s apron, somber, black-clad, and barefoot. Once the dancers entered, the piece’s title role was danced with soft, interpretive grace. Also barefoot, hair loose, the Little Match Girl is a wisp of a being, her part danced movingly; the light, nimble interpretation and original choreography imbued pedestrian movements with poignancy—running, the soft patter of feet. The costuming and interpretation were both diaphanous. In this piece that universalizes suffering through the story, the motifs of shivering and a match’s brief glow, the dancing gives a way into the narrative for those who may be less used to following the narrative arc of a choral work.
And in this, Brukhman and his ensemble show themselves to be forward-thinking, interested in taking choral music to new places. The performance was, for many reasons, in its foray into a realm otherworldly and full of grief, transformative. Verdigris’ next performances will be Feb. 8-10. More information here.