The Gospel according to the Other Mary

Attended the European premiere of this work last night. Another masterpiece from the greatest living composer - and one of the greatest of all time. The scale of the conception and the mastery of the realisation left me quite stunned. The development of his music is phenomenal, even from relatively recent works; but this makes such a performance hard to take in on first hearing. This is a piece that demands, and will reward, some intensive homework.

Churlish it may seem in the face of such genius, but the morning after the night before, I have two reservations. The one concerned the muddying of the dramatic impact by the confusion of roles: the words of Jesus are not confined to any particular performer, nor is the narration. I couldn't help thinking this was contrived and I didn't see the point. If there's something that seems straightforward, why not do it? Additionally, the two sisters, Mary and Martha, were both written for mezzoo-sopranos. Why create aural confusion when two highly different characters would have been better served by two contrasting voices? The three countertenors would have been wonderful restricted to the role of Jesus. The 'staging' seemed altogether an attempt to trendily the piece, to make it something it isn't: although some movement and gestures would have been helpful, what we saw seemed contrived simply to keep Peter Sellars in the loop.

My other reservation is the virtuosity of the music. As performers get ever more advanced, orchestras ever more slick, and singers ever cleverer, so the stuff written for them is bound to get more complex. This performance was truly amazing - one of the world's great orchestras, the youngest, most virtuosic conductor, a choir that was astounding in its flexibility, choreography and memory, etc., soloists that could sing upside-down - the list is almost endless. But what about mere mortals? What happens to their music-making nowadays? The St Matthew Passion or the Brahms Requiem can be attempted by any village choir: terrible the result may be, yet people are involved in experiencing such masterpieces at local level every week of the year. What will happen to The Other Mary? And how will ordinary folk out of the biggest cities have any experience of John Adams live?

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