Robert Wilson Directs Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Passion

Includes The Lost Paradise, a documentary by Günter Atteln.

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LABELS: Accentus
ALBUM TITLE: Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Passion; The Lost Paradise
WORKS: Adam’s Passion; The Lost Paradise
PERFORMER: Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Tõnu Kaljuste; dir. Robert Wilson (Estonia, 2015)


Adam’s Passion is a theatrical event devised by Robert Wilson, structured around a number of Pärt’s pre-existing pieces – Adam’s Lament (2009), Tabula Rasa (1977) and Miserere (1989/92) – although Sequentia (2014), which opens the work, was receiving its world premiere here. And as Tõnu Kaljuste says in The Lost Paradise, a film documenting the staging, if you did not know otherwise you would readily believe that the Passion was a complete self-contained work. Staged in the Tallinn Foundry, Estonia, the orchestra was above and behind the audience, itself bisected by a narrow stage that evokes the Cross and down which a naked Adam progresses.

Wilson is probably best known for his collaborations with Philip Glass, including Monsters of Grace and Einstein on the Beach. His sparse, ritualistic design and production, with actions in extreme slow motion – done for real, not with camera effects – is strange and bemusing, Pärt’s music is beautiful and moving. The two combine to create an utterly mesmerising and enriching experience. The film direction, camerawork and editing are suitably un-gimmicky, allowing the stage production to come across clear and unobscured. Cuts and close-ups are, quite properly, used only to clarify.

The Lost Paradise includes rehearsal footage and interviews with Pärt’s colleagues and admirers, including Sofia Gubaidulina, Gidon Kremer and Paul Hillier as well as a chronicle of his visits to Tokyo to receive the Praemium Imperiale award and to the Vatican to participate in a seminar, Women’s Cultures. Most fascinating are the rare sequences where Pärt, always reluctant to put himself in front of the music, talks straight to camera, discussing among other things about the redemptive power of pain, which he defines as an absence of love.

Wilson says he always starts rehearsals without music, developing ideas fairly fully before bringing in the music, otherwise, ‘I know, if I start with the music, invariably I will tend to illustrate.’ The on-stage scenes are not necessarily attempts at interpretation either, but responses to the music. I have my own speculations about what the action and images might mean but there is a big, though not straightforward clue in the depiction of Adam, and the hints of a new Adam. And do I detect allusions to Doris Lessing’s Shikasta cycle and even to Hansel and Gretel?


Mercifully, and unusually these days, director Günther Attein’s approach is cool, focused and un-tricksy, illuminating the subject without pointless and mannered stylistic distractions. Like the DVD of the premiere performance, The Lost Paradise is handsomely packaged in a cardboard book-style cover that contains photographs as well as background essays. Barry Witherden