The Passion that Golijov wrote for Rilling and Stuttgart, La Pasión Según San Marcos, has become an international success, both in touring stage performances and in the recently released recording. St. Mark's Gospel has a direct, vernacular quality matched by Golijov with popular musical and ritual styles, particularly from Brazil and Cuba. With a few exceptions, the text is in Spanish, but a sort of street Spanish from different areas.
"What I did," Golijov told Kronos violinist David Harrington in an interview while he was still writing the piece, "I worked with 10 or 11 different translations of Mark into Spanish, from the most scholarly to the most popular - some that my sister, my father-in-law, or I collected, or that they give you for free in the churches of the very poor, or that handicapped vendors sell on the trains in Argentina. I wanted to translate to an oral half-African, half-Spanish language. So it's all Spanish but it's 'Africanized' in that the phrases always end with the accent on the last syllable. I managed to have all the phrasing be Spanish but to sound African.
"What is clear is that the language closely relates to each musical style - it's clear that some things will have a very strong flamenco tint and that some things will have a very strong Brazilian feel -so I adapt the Spanish - and even now as I'm writing the music I still reword the phrasing and change the order of the wording and the verbal tenses to fit the sound."
The Three Arias come from almost symmetrical points in the Passion's 34 movements. Judas' aria, which is sung after he returns from his meeting with the high priest, is No. 13. Jesus' aria, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, is No. 19. Peter's aria, which comes after his denial, is No. 26.
These roles, however, are not assigned to a single voice. The voice of Jesus, for example, may be a female soloist, a male soloist, or most often, the chorus, since for Golijov Jesus represents the collective spirit of the people.
Judas' aria is a fantasy on a traditional flamenco song ("I'd Like to Forsake this World") that Golijov heard in an old recording by the cantaora La Niña de los Peines. In the Passion, flamenco is generally used along the thematic axis of betrayal and sentencing. Flamenco foot-stomping reappears, for example, after Pilatus confronts Jesus.
For Golijov, the Agonía is the most important movement in the Passion. Here Jesus is portrayed three different ways. Luciana Souza sings Jesus as a child, pleading with his Father to "Take this cup away from me"; Jessica Rivera is Jesus as a forgiving mother talking to the disciples, who have fallen asleep while he prays; and the chorus represents Jesus haunted by his own announcement of the impending passion a few days earlier. "In any case, here Jesus truly transcends his human nature and overcomes his fear," the composer writes.
The aria of Peter's tears following his denial of Jesus uses as text a beautiful poem by Rosalía de Castro, Lúa descolorida, in the Galician dialect of northwestern Spain. At this point there is no redemption apparent for Peter, though he will find it after the Passion. The song is simple, in a sort of Spanish neo-Baroque style, with lamenting melismas punctuating the stanzas, as in Couperin's Leçons des Ténèbres.