I blame myself. Honestly. My ignorance. My, er... prejudice. But this was not my cup of tea.
We went last night to Disney Hall to hear the John Adams/Peter Sellars collaboration, The Gospel According to the Other Mary conducted by the inimitable Gustavo Dudamel. My ignorance? The music. My prejudice? The story. Guilty on both charges. The piece was in two acts, the first of which was seventy minutes long, and the second, sixty-five. The truth is that we left at intermission. So this is not a music review, for which I am in any event unqualified.
The music. Taken in two-minute slices--any two minutes, really--it was absolutely compelling. I loved hearing the singers--three (count 'em) countertenors, a contralto, a mezzo-soprano, a tenor and a chorus, all lovely voices, solo or in counterpoint. I loved the noisy parts of the music with wild syncopations and dissonances; I loved the soft parts, serene and meditative. But my musical attention is such that I'm unable to keep focused for long enough to follow its thread. After two minutes, I have totally lost it and my mind is a busy scold, telling me that if I had paid attention I wouldn't be feeling so lost and, well, bored. Add all those two-minute pieces together thirty-five times and you could see that I was in a daze of musical confusion. So... mea culpa. Absolutely.
The story. My prejudice. It's the Jesus thing. Okay, no disrespect. I go along with him being a great prophet. I see that his teaching has a great deal in common with the Buddha's (and wish that his contemporary followers would pay more attention to his actual words--his compassion, then--than to his deity and his promises of salvation.) The Gospel according to Adams and Sellars sounded many a millennial theme (see my recent review of Heaven on Earth by Richard Landes): the messiah arrives to save humanity from itself with his death and resurrection. With the apocalypse comes redemption, our suffering will end, and this wicked world will become a place of peace and plenty.
I don't believe any of that stuff. I'm with the Buddha: if we wish to end suffering, the work is ours, individually. No one is going to come and save us. The Jesus that is presented here, as magician (raising the dead) and object-of-worship (allowing his feet to be bathed by Mary Magdelene) just doesn't do it for me. I don't fault him one bit for being on the side of the meek and suffering, the homeless, the hungry and the sick. The politics of the piece is nothing if not correct and timely. As Jesus said, the poor are always with us. They are with us today, both abroad and at home, whether we admit it to ourselves or not; said Adams in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, "tragically these are also the people on whose backs budgets and acts of Congress today are being balanced. I think that this is a very meaningful story on a social level because Americans in this moment of national anxiety are basically beating up on the poor. We've always beat up on the poor, but now for some reason we've found the language that empowers us to abuse them even further." Amen. This is a terrible and shameful truth. But as the "Son of God," his Jesus comes across, for me at least, as more than a little self-righteous.
This all blows up into great melodrama: Lazarus rising from the dead--well, being risen--is the centerpiece of the first act. But I found it all simply overbearing. I respond more readily to the quieter art work, the less imposing, less portentous. I don't like to be beaten over the head. Expressionism works less well, for me, than impressionism.
But that's my ignorance. My prejudice. I'd like to read a proper review, written by someone who know's what he's talking about. I'll check out the Los Angeles Times this morning. See what's what. Here's a preview, which offers some good information. If I find a full review, I'll post it. To be fair.