Sections of empty seats in Powell Symphony Hall unnerved me. This was most unusual. On the program was the performance John Adams’s passion-opera-oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012); its libretto, a collage of Scriptural texts and selections from Dorothy Day, Hildegard of Bingham, and other poets, was composed by Peter Sellars.

Others felt the absence of the usual patrons for this Sunday matinee and buried themselves in the program notes. Like a voyeur, however, this emptiness pried into our concentration and stalked our preconception of what was coming. Never have I sat in such an audience.

All was ready: the St. Louis Symphony musicians and Chorus, two mezzo-sopranos, the tenor, and three countertenors awaited the baton of David Robertson. From the first notes came the primal engagement. Like it or not, we were to be swept into the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus and held hostage until its end.

Unlike other Passion oratorios, however, Jesus himself does not appear, nor His cross nor other images associated with His passion. As the libretto seeded our imaginations, everyone, onstage and off, became the Anointed One. Everyone suffered the dregs of intolerable darkness; were plummeted into that singular place of no return, alone and terrified; and nudged into ultimate trust of God, until released into Light. Enhancing this conversion experience were eerie sounds, from the musicians and principals, sounds turned inside out and prodding us into even deeper consciousness.

At the conclusion of the performance, even fewer patrons left Powell Hall for the parking lot, others having absented themselves at the intermission—Perhaps an allusion to “the grazers,” mentioned in Peter Sellars YouTube, A Fresh Passion.

Happy Easter to those daring to look afresh at this mystery!

 

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