The Bach Cantatas, Directed by Peter Sellars, Conducted by Craig Smith
2001 & 2005 Tours: Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston; Lincoln Center, New York; Barbican Centre, London;
Cite de la Musique, Paris; Internationale Musicfestwochen, Luzern; Holland Festival, Amsterdam, Vienna Festival
Mr. Sellars originally staged Bach’s Cantata BWV 199 in 1996 for Dawn Upshaw with a blue dress designed by Dunya Ramicova. On a bare stage, the dress acted as the set and props for the singer to act out the emotions of the piece. When it was revived in 2001 I tailored the dress to fit Ms. Hunt-Leiberson, who had lost a lot of weight during her first battle with cancer.
The new production included Bach’s Cantata BWV 82 which begins “I have had enough” and finishes with “Rejoicing do I greet my death”. This hit very close to home for Ms. Hunt Lieberson, who just a month before had undergone treatment for breast cancer. Mr. Sellars staged her pulling out IV tubing from her arms and face to bring Bach’s contemplation of suicide during mortal sickness into a modern light. I designed and constructed a special hospital gown for her that was long enough to cover her legs while she lay down on the stage and did not gap in the back, but allowed for all her movements.
The rehearsal process in Boston was a homecoming for her, reuniting her with Mr. Smith and the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, where she started her career as a violist. I was amazed at the strength and beauty of her voice and was honored to help her prepare for each night’s show. She was in a great deal of pain, but still gave such incredibly powerful performances each evening. Many of the concerts later in the 2005 European tour had to be cancelled due to the reoccurrence of her illness. Her incredible talent and presence will be missed by the music world.