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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

03/19/2017 1:00 pm
03/19/2017 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This Sunday's audio presentation looks forward to Palm Sunday and Easter. You could describe John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a twenty first century take on the Passion oratorio of centuries past. The "Other Mary" in question is Mary Magdalen, who with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus were friends and followers of Jesus. For the modern American musicmaster of minimalism Peter Sellars crafted a libretto combining Old and New Testament sources with the poetry of writers as divergent as the twentieth century Catholic activist Dorothy Day and the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Three solo singers portray an alternative Holy Family of two sisters and brother. Jesus's miracles, his suffering, crucifixion and resurrection are witnessed from their perspective. There is no solo voice of Jesus. Instead, a trio of countertenors delivers some of His words and provide the commentary of the Evangelist.

The strident minimalist style is much toned down in the more recent compositions of John Adams (b. 1947). The world premiere recording of what might alternatively be called Adams' "Passion of Mary Magdalen" was issued through Deutsche Grammophon in 2014 on two compact discs. The premiere took place in Los Angeles at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gustavo Dudamel directed the Los Angeles Philharmonic and LA Master Chorale. Reviewer Ronald E. Grames praised the recording in the pages of Fanfare magazine (July/August 2014 issue). "Without a doubt," he wrote, "The Gospel According to the Other Mary is controversial in concept. It could not be otherwise with Peter Sellars at the helm. "But it is also powerful theater, given extraordinary depth by music of remarkable authority, variety and nuance."

I had originally intended this oratorio for broadcast on Sunday, March 8, 2015, and the announcement for it ran in the WWUH Program Guide for that date, but it was preempted by broadcast of a UHA women's basketball game. I partially made up for the preemption by airing the "Passover Sequence" of the recording as an audio add-on to the regularly scheduled broadcast of the following Sunday, March 15th. Only this Sunday do you get to hear The Gospel According to the Other Mary in its entirety.