Review | A half-century later, Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ shines anew at Kennedy Center

If recent polls are true, and Americans are. Appears in the church Low abundance More than ever, you wouldn’t know it Thursday night at the Kennedy Center, where a devout and nearly sold-out concert hall was delighted by a two-hour service of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.”

Presented. As a capstone Celebrating the Arts Center’s 50th anniversary, this revived and slightly improved production of Bernstein’s fluid treatment of the Catholic liturgy faithfully revisits the work and, more importantly, its premiere. The surrounding electric spirit. In the hands of director Alison Moretz and choreographer Hope Boykin, “Mass” felt less altered than restored: its details sharper, its highlights polished, its angles brighter.

Conductor James Gaffigan played a large part in this renaissance approach, leading the National Symphony Orchestra with sureness and gusto through Bernstein’s tangled chordal corridors, and the composer’s sometimes pretentious patterns. Felt effortlessly chic.

Leonard Bernstein’s song ‘Mass’ is revived for a broken America.

For all its “simple” songs, staging “Mass” is no easy task. On Thursday night, 210 artists took the unexpectedly ample stage installed in the concert hall, including the 72-piece NSO., In which 72 members participated. Heritage Signature Chorale Under Stanley Thurston. 37 singers, a 19-member “street people ensemble” and eight dancers from Washington’s Children’s Chorus under Margaret Nomura Clark.

And though the “Mass” is massive, it rests on the shoulders of a single soul, celebrant, dynamically embodied and sung in this revival by a baritone. Will Liverman.

Created in 1971. Baritone Alan Titus, the protagonist of Celebrant, lives like a cipher: is he representative of the audience? Is that a pastor guiding us through our own experiences? Or is it the embodiment of faith and its inevitable cracks? The role demands an impossible balance of presence and absence.

Liverman picked it up naturally. Her upbringing singing in Pentecostal choirs enabled her to wear the elaborate costumes of the celebrant (beautifully realized by costume designer Lynley Saunders) rather than the other way around. But more importantly, as a singer, Liverman is uniquely suited to handle (and humanize) the vernacular melange of Bernstein’s music, which has been mis-sung, be it an academic exercise or an aberration. Might look like a working jukebox.

Indeed, Liverman may be the first celebrator I’ve heard of some originalist understanding of Bernstein without some respect. That is, he did not need to pour himself into the vessel of the celebrant. His song seemed to explode from within.

Those who saw Liverman sing the lead in Terrence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up In My Bones” at the Metropolitan Opera March know that he’s that rare opera singer who can summon dramatic precision (and project) with ease. Is. In “Mass,” he dictated to the center, “Letter: The Word of the Lord,” turning to address the audience with a pointed finger that punctured the fourth wall: “Now is your hour, ye rulers.” !” And he navigated the engaging “mad scene” of the work’s final 16th movement (“Fraction: Things Get Broken”) with a graceful abandon that belied his meticulous control.

A watershed moment with ‘Fire Shut Up In My Bones’ at the Met

“Mass” also relies heavily on the strength of its ensemble of singers and soloists, here presented as a distinctly contemporary-looking ensemble, its members cascading from the sides of the stage and down the aisles. . (As a wave of latecomers filtered in to find their seats, I half-expected them to have lines to sing.)

Several of the soloists gave fantastic, if Kushenbanger, turns. Soprano Miro Khalia Adeeb delivered a stunning “Thank You” and actor-singer Curtis Bannister was also powerful in the “non-credo” trope of “Credo,” with Mexican mezzo-soprano Cecile Clavery, bass Matt Buhler, and actor-singer Bobby Conte. Made exhibitions, to name a few.

Much appreciated is the Heritage Signature Chorale, an imposing ensemble that presided over the stage in red robes. In a momentary burst of energy, they roared like a flame in the hearth of the hall. They are a powerhouse chorus with an exhilarating energy and were responsible for many of the high points of the night. An impressive show was also put on by the children’s chorus, especially its three nominated soloists: Abraham Leitner (who sang “Prefatory Prayers”), Evelyn Golden and Carlo Neumann-Caragol (who ended the show with ” “Secret Song” began.

“Mass” is a bear to stage, but recreating it is no small feat. Bernstein was a great composer but a lousy seamstress, and the work’s clashing and wild moodboard of dated colors can sometimes test the limits of design, which straddles the line between craftsmanship and domestic composition.

Lyrically, too, Stephen Schwartz’s contributions can send eyes rolling skyward now and then. A singer is cursed with the line: “It’s easy for you to dig my jam jam jive.” Another Seuss quote about mosquitoes and mice and cats goes by Ian Swift. And just when you think you’ve weathered the worst, he finally goes and “prays” with “Kyrie-ing.”

Despite these challenges, Moritz’s staging — presented as a grand chapel under hanging lanterns — actually cracks a window and provides “Mass” with some much-needed fresh air. The personal crisis of faith represented by the celebrant (and some consider Bernstein’s proxy) is heightened by Moretz’s concern for the community: it is the congregation that trashes the altar and in one of the shows “Agnes de “breaks the The most sensational spread. They are also the ones who put it all together.

Boykin’s choreography was smooth and expressive, non-intrusive without settling into decorum. Some of the most fascinating passages of Moritz’s staging were those that allowed the orchestra to express itself fully (as in the trio of Mahlerian “Meditations”) and that allowed Boykin’s dancers to express the unrest. Freed up for that adds work.

What worried me were the kind of technical gremlins that plague any opening night. Some of the cues seemed a bit blurry here and there. Hall himself was often overwhelmed by the unfortunately amplified sound, Bernstein’s bombastic fortissimos wrapped in a chaos (which, of course, sometimes worked).

Unbalanced mixing on stage and the occasional clash of messy blocking made soloists difficult to parse at times, a sort of Waldo to my ears. And toward the end, Liverman’s microphone must have turned inward, as every flutter of her dress registered in the hall and her final lines rang out. (Very good for one ASMR fannot so much for audience members.)

But such technical flubs are of limited consequence with a work like “Mass,” which by contrast is more invested in suspending belief. Dusty and weathered, it still has a lot to say about the power of individual faith in an age of anxiety (be it ’71 or ’22). But Bernstein’s music, in its deliberately dissonant style, also has something to tell us about the American identity: It is not enough to contain the multitude—one must also liberate them.

“Mass” by Leonard Bernstein Repeats Saturday and Sunday at the Kennedy Center.

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One thought on “Review | A half-century later, Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ shines anew at Kennedy Center

  • November 15, 2022 at 8:16 am

    Top site ,.. amazaing post ! Just keep the work on !


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