‘The Little Match Girl Passion’ Is a Bleak Counterpart To Seasonal Favorites

ArtsWest’s live choir and dance adaptation of the fairy tale follows a child’s Christmas in hell.

Performing musical works in a theatrical setting—adding staging and other media, making a concert piece into a theater piece—is one of the more interesting ideas that’s popped up in the classical-music world in recent years. To name only two examples, Bach cantatas (directed by provocateur Peter Sellars) and Shostakovich’s Quartet no. 15 (the Emerson String Quartet meets video projections) have been thus transformed. The inter-artistic alchemy can shed fascinating new light on the music, or at the very least introduce it to theatergoers who might not otherwise encounter it.

ArtsWest’s current production of The Little Match Girl Passion is yet another intriguing, and thoroughly successful, example. Composer David Lang’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale was premiered in 2007 and earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He scored it for four-part choir—though, as it is here, it can be sung by four solo voices: John Coons, Lisa Mandelkorn, Jenny Shotwell, and Randy Scholz—and touches of percussion, which these singers play as they sing: crotales, orchestra bells, sleigh bells, a floor tom, a brake drum. Lang’s choice of title overtly links the Passion of Jesus, his final suffering and death, to Andersen’s heart-wrencher about a neglected match-seller and her parallel fate.

What ArtsWest’s production does with this vocal piece—which, I’m guessing, was devised and developed by the performers, since no director is listed in the program—is to add two dancers, Megan Sandico and choreographer Ulyber Mangune. Their work harmonizes tellingly with Lang’s music and with the production as a whole—bare-bones, as befits a tale of the ravages of poverty, with just music stands, the percussion, and one prop, a bolt of red cloth; it’s all performed on the existing set for ArtsWest’s Peter and the Starcatcher, running concurrently. Periods of bodily motionlessness echo the silences in Lang’s ascetic, pared-down score; his repetitions of simple material (rising and falling scales, long-held tones, or giving all singers the same rhythms, as in hymns) ingeniously make a great deal out of a little; and together it all enhances the story’s poignance.

Lang’s piece is only about a half-hour long; to make an evening of it, ArtsWest prefaces it with a half-hour reading of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” It’s a rather cunning juxtaposition; follow the warm and cuddly favorite, read avuncularly by Paul Shapiro, with the bleakness of Lang & Andersen. It makes a hard-hitting counterpart to the season’s usual Nutcrackers and Christmas Carols. ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave. S.W., artswest.org. $30. 7:30 p.m. Mon., Dec. 19, 10:30 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 22.

More in Arts & Culture

City Arts Ceases Publication

The free local culture magazine shuts down operations after 12 years.

Greta Klein (center right) brings the soft indie pop Frankie Cosmos to The Neptune. Photo by Angel Ceballos
The Soft Comfort of Frankie Cosmos

Sub Pop’s tenderest band brings its indie pop to The Neptune.

French dance company Compagnie Käfig brings the lights of ‘Pixel’ to Meany Center. Photo by Laurent Philippe
Pick List: Compagnie Käfig, Brooklyn Rider, Pete Souza

The week’s best entertainment offerings.

At times, the actors in Outlaw King are hard to tell apart under the mud, furs, 
and filthy mullets. Courtesy Netflix
Coming for the Throne

‘Outlaw King,’ the Chris Pine-led 14th century epic about the First War of Scottish Independence, signals Netflix’s attempt to conquer the Oscars.

Jonah Ray (yellow) joins Crow, Servo, and original host Joel Hodgson on the ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ live tour. Photo courtesy MST3K
The Timeless Formula of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ Goes Live

New host Jonah Ray discusses tour, honorable riffs, and nerd fan acceptance

Pedro the Lion. Photo by Ryan Russell
Pedro the Lion Returns with “Yellow Bike”

After nearly 15 years without new music, the Seattle band releases a song and video from the upcoming album, ‘Phoenix.’

Mr. Daisey’s desk at Seattle Rep. Photo by Seth Sommerfeld
‘A People’s History’ Takes Aim at American Triumphalism

Mike Daisey’s 18-part monologue at Seattle Rep serves as an engaging, fiery, and confrontational history class.

Big-screen Queen via Bohemian Rhapsody. Photo courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
Not Quite A Killer Queen

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ hits some musical high notes, but the Queen biopic largely plays it too safe.

Most Read