Stabat Mater, Jakub Jozef Orlinski, CD, DVD and digital

Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński has a long emotional association with Vivaldi Stabat Mater, as the first movement was one of the first solo pieces he prepared while he was a student at the University of Warsaw. At the time, Orlinkski dreamed of swapping the piano accompaniment to play with a fuller orchestration. And now that dream has been realized in a cross-genre way with Sebastian Panczyk’s pop opera video of Stabat Mater.

Orlinkskiwhich combines break-dancing and 124,000 Instagram followers with its recent debut at the Royal Opera House Theodora and a residency at Wigmore Hall, aims this outing squarely at listeners who may be encountering the music for the first time. Arguing that pop music has been creating videos “for a very long time” to give listeners a richer experience, Orlinkski stars in a rendition of the anthem that will be accessible to people unfamiliar with baroque or even classical music. And, as Vivaldi only used the first ten stanzas of the 13th-century Latin hymn in his composition, the length lends itself well to an abbreviated cinematic treatment.

Although the director, Panczyk, is known for his advertising creations for multinational telecommunications and automotive companies, the style of Stabat Mater owes much to Eastern European arthouse directors, especially Andrej Tarkovsky, with lingering shots of forests, spooky, empty lakes and first-person viewpoints, allowing us to inhabit the world dreamlike of the singing hero. The beauty of nature is interspersed with horribly bloody violence. Martyr of the Stabat had its premiere in the short films section of the Warsaw Film Festival.

Accompaniment is provided on period instruments by Capella Cracoviensis, conducted by Jan Tomasz Adamus, the soft soundscape contrasting with the flashes of modern Poland in the film, as well as Orlinkski crouches fetally in front of the headlights of a speeding car and waits at a high-tech bus stop, before boarding a bus, spattered with the blood of his companions. The singer says empathy is key to understanding his journey from an all-too-brief idyllic outing in the woods with friends, to a house party with a spooky twist, then to the stage of the opera, a giant deer connecting the disparate worlds of nature, contemporary life and performance.

For Orlinkski, the sacred and the profane are linked: “I want to touch these two worlds and make them accessible to both audiences. As a person, I am very spiritual. I started singing in a choir, and we played in churches and cathedrals, and I have a big, big space in my heart for that. And there is an understanding. And that’s how my musicality was shaped. That’s why it touches both worlds.

The attraction of Stabat Mater subject to composers through the ages informs by Orlinkski approach. “The composers have really taken so much inspiration from this very famous sequence, and the majority of them are crazy. We have the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, it’s super beautiful, but it’s different beautiful. It has different kinds of tools, because you also have the soprano and the duets, and it’s, it’s really captivating, and captures the emotions.

“But with this piece, it’s amazing how Vivaldi essentially defines everything in one key. And it’s a journey through the first moment to the last moment, and you have it all in one key. And everything is settled with the small ensemble, very pure. And one of the most beautiful things is this Stabat Mater is just for viola and violins. It’s crazy.”

In the movie, Orlinkski sings the second movement, “Cuius animama cappella, as he glides through a house party in one long take. The logistics of performing while moving through a crowded venue on a trolley, combined with the Warsaw extras’ enthusiastic reaction to the singer, beaming when they should have looked serious, made it the most difficult part of the film to choreograph and finish. But it highlights by Orlinkski incredibly expressive voice, offering this lyrical prayer of empathy for shared human suffering, to beautiful effect.

Warner Classical’s interpretation of Vivaldi Stabat Mater is far from sacred music by candlelight, and explicit imagery might seem too far away; but it will certainly bring the music and by Orlinkski fabulous voice to a new and grateful audience.

Jack L. Goldstein