The stage is bare apart from 21 chairs in two diagonal rows, nine on one side, 12 on the other. But it’s not until near the end of Lagrime di San Pietro that the singers actually sit on them for the first time. Mostly, they sing while performing the compelling, poetic, physical choreography that Peter Sellars has crafted on them to drive deep into the emotional heart of the Renaissance a cappella masterwork.

Born in The Netherlands in 1532, Orlando di Lasso composed over 2000 works including 300 masses. He wrote Lagrime di San Pietro, an achingly sorrowful piece about St Peter’s denial of Jesus Christ before he is taken away to be crucified, knowing that it would be his last composition. Ill and in pain, Di Lasso died in 1594 three weeks after finishing the extraordinary piece of polyphony.

Lagrime, Lagrime di san Pietro, Melbourne Festival Lagrime di san Pietro. Photo supplied

Written in 21 sections, Di Lasso used poetry by Italian Renaissance poet Luigi Tansillo for the first 20 madrigals, and added a Latin motet at the end. Each is written in seven-part harmony. When Grant Gershon, Artistic Director of...