Tucson Desert Song Festival presents LEONARD BERNSTEIN’S MASS Review – Wonderful Kesselgarten

In the rear, True Concord Voices next to the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus in red. In front, the Dance Ensemble from the University of Arizona Eller School of Dance. On the ramp, the three soloists: soprano Katherine Weber, baritone Tamar Green, tenor Aaron Finley Photo by Chris Richards

(Editor’s Note: What a timely word choice!! “Kesselgarten” refers to a precursor of Ellis Island where Eastern European immigrants arrived—Castle Garden via a Yiddish accent-- and now colloquially refers to any situation that is noisy, confusing and chaotic)

A Magical Production at the Tucson Desert Song Festival

The Program Notes went into detail about the incomplete and disorganized state of Mass four months before the scheduled premier at the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Jackie Kennedy masterminded the Center and the opening production, a new work from Leonard Bernstein. A fortunate introduction to Stephen Schwartz, whose Godspell was playing off-Broadway, created the magical production, Mass. Schwartz’s familiarity with the presentation of Christian religion through new music fused perfectly with Bernstein’s passion to use an amalgam of all musical genres, not tied to one per composition, as is usually done. The result is a wonderful kesselgarten—noisy, confusing and chaotic.

Bernstein and Schwartz Enhance the Traditional Mass

You must approach Mass with an open heart to the music and the message. The Latin Mass is a framework into which Bernstein weaves his non-traditional music, sung in English. The Latin segments are reverential and often majestic. The responses “I Don’t Know”, “Easy”, “Half the People”, “Thank You”, “I Believe in God”, “I Go On”, are reflections by ordinary young people, representing the questioning and rebellion of the 60’s. They expound on the current meaning of the Latin words. For example, following the Confiteor, a male soloist sings, “It’s easy to shake the blame for any crime by trotting out that Mea Culpa pantomime…”

Jubilant Sykes at the Celebrant
Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant Photo by Chris Richards

Jubilant Sykes Gives his Soul as the Celebrant

The role of the Celebrant was masterfully performed by baritone, Jubilant Sykes. How his name fits his voice! In an interview earlier in the week in The Tucson Daily Star, Sykes expressed his love and hate for his signature role. After each performance, he vows never to perform it again. Yet, up to the intermission, his role had seemed rich, yet hardly daunting. That changed with the introduction of the Communion theme, and the Celebrant smashes the sacred paten and chalice on the floor. He sings “Things Get Broken” – and laments his spiritual disillusion with God, man, and his own priestly role. The Celebrant’s breakdown was masterfully wrought by Sykes. This writer felt he left his soul on the stage!

Secret Song – the Most Memorable Hymn

The opening and closing of Mass use the same prayer, "Secret Song"—a beautiful, sweet poem of praise to God. More Jewish in tone than Catholic, “Blessed is the man who loves the Lord, blessed is the man who praises Him”. It could be sung every week in every church.

Tucson Desert Song Fest Brings Together the Best of Tucson Ensembles

Mass is a big piece of theater featuring The True Concord Voices and Orchestra, the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and the wonderful Dance Ensemble from the University of Arizona School of Dance. In addition to Jubilant Sykes, Mass featured baritone Tamar Green, soprano Katherine Weber, tenor Aaron Finley and several solos by R.C. Troike from the Boys Chorus. The integration of dance, almost continuously, with the performance, was stunning. Kudos to choreographers Christopher Bryan Compton and Tamara Dyke-Compton, UofA dance faculty. All were carefully synchronized under the baton of Eric Holtan, Conductor and founding Music Director of True Concord.

Experienced once, Mass is worth more visits to better appreciate and understand the richness of musical and spiritual expression.

When 

January 16 through February 4, 2018 –

Where:

Tucson, AZ. -- Please consult the Tucson Desert Song Festival website for performances, locations and times.  

Tickets:

Some events are free, others have a charge. Please consult the Tucson Desert Song Festival website for details.

Ann Boland
Portrait by Paul Sierra

Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation.  Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders.  Please visit her website for more information.  

 

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