Debating Bernstein’s “Mass”

Posted on: July 16, 2018

“The controversy over Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ began with its premiere in 1971,” writes Anthony Tommasini in Friday’s (7/13) New York Times. “An opportunity to hear Bernstein’s ‘theater piece for singers, players and dancers,’ as he called it, comes next Tuesday and Wednesday when … Louis Langrée conducts the forces of the Mostly Mozart Festival in a production directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer…. The subject is a crisis of faith. The text alternates passages of the Latin mass liturgy with English lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, whose musical ‘Godspell’ had opened in 1970…. At the time, Bernstein was pilloried for daring to draw from myriad serious and popular styles in fashioning this two-hour score… Today … his approach seems ahead of its time.… The presence of Copland, whom Bernstein revered, is felt in … the Trope: ‘Thank You,’ for soprano and Street Chorus…. The episodes when the ragtag, war-protesting Rock Singers enter have long been the most cringe-inducing for many listeners. For me, Bernstein’s evocations of rock are only glancing, tinged with jazz and blues…. The most powerful stretch, for me, comes when the Celebrant, unable to rouse the shocked crowd, sings ‘How easily things get quiet,’ then observes ‘God is very ill.’ ”

Posted July 16, 2018