Lincoln's Center's "The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov" festival -- one of the altogether more admirable productions Lincoln Center has mounted in recent years -- came to a rousing conclusion this evening with a second performance of the composer's La Pasión según San Marcos. Premiered in 2000, the work is well traveled enough now that I don't feel any pressing need to dwell on its provenance. For those seeking more detail, then, I'll turn you over to Alex Ross's New Yorker review of the 2001 American premiere at the Boston Symphony (which sets the work within multiple musical contexts with Ross's customary panache), and to Anastasia Tsioulcas's Classics Today report on the 2002 New York premiere at BAM, the latter of which I also attended.
Instead, I'd rather fixate on a handful of details. Like Ainadamar, Golijov's St. Mark Passion is a work that employs (rather than simply requires) amplification, and this was much better managed here than in the run of the opera a few weeks back. Every balance was expertly judged; trumpet fanfares electronically dispersed throughout Rose Theater had audience members craning their necks in search of invisible players in the balconies.
As has been reported elsewhere, Golijov fundamentally understands that popular idioms carry a great deal more sociopolitical weight in Latin American cultures than in North America and most of Europe (former Soviet states certainly excepted). That he sets some of the most dramatically painful segments of the Passion to boisterous dance music is as logical as it is bold, which didn't prevent my feeling a certain pang of uneasiness as I tapped my foot and swayed during Judas's betrayal and the march to Golgotha.
Unlike last night, a printed libretto was distributed this evening, and the house lights were kept up to allow audience members to follow the text should they choose to do so. As Anastasia reported today at Café Aman, the delectable Brazilian-American jazz singer Luciana Souza's performance in this work has grown almost incalculably richer; her rendition spanned a range that included a rich, café au lait lyricism, avian flights of seemingly spontaneous fancy and a demonic presence not so far removed from Diamanda Galás. Soprano (and personable blogger) Anne-Carolyn Bird fully assumed a role formerly occupied by Dawn Upshaw, and delivered an utterly wrenching "Lúa descolorida" -- Golijov's setting of a Galician poem by Rosalía de Castro, which stood in for Peter's thoughts at the moment of his betrayal of Jesus.
As had been the case at BAM, once again the unnamed singers of Venezuelan choir Scola Cantorum de Caracas offered deeply felt sentiments in plainspoken, occasionally rough-hewn tones. It was their work that made Golijov's Passion as much ritual as performance, their now searing, now soothing voices that constantly underscored the human element -- both mundane and sublime -- of this familar gospel. The versatile players of Orquesta la Pasión provided both fire and refinement; members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra gamely provided a link, however tenuous, to the concert-platform tradition, with principal violinist Cecylia Arzewski contributing especially sweetly to "Lúa descolorida." Conductor Robert Spano, whose belief in this work has surely fostered its travels, led tonight's performance with utter conviction and fine attention to detail.
The term Gesamtkunstwerk, Richard Wagner's notion of a completely unified expression of art, isn't one that seeps into my conversation especially often. But tonight, more than had been the case at BAM, I found that word bubbling up again and again as I admired Golijov's deeply felt confluence of music, drama and choreography (most obviously in the dancing and acting of Reynaldo González Fernández and Deraldo Ferreira, but also in the effective blocking and gestures of the chorus), bolstered by subtle, mood-enhancing lighting. More than ever before, tonight I truly believed that Golijov's Pasión is a deeply significant creation -- a statement of principle as well as a gateway to opportunity. What's more, the composer's treatment of thrice-familiar human passions rendered them livid and new; caught live a second time, the experience was every bit as startling as the first, and still more moving.
One last note: Those who already follow Anne-Carolyn Bird's abovementioned blog have likely already seen her post that included a backstage photo with an appreciative David Bowie. Don't be surprised if a similar shot with Björk shows up tomorrow; the Icelandic innovator sat ramrod straight, and even scribbled a few notes, during tonight's performance. To me, this doesn't feel like simple celebrity trainspotting (as it would have been had I mentioned sighting Lou Reed in the bathroom queue at John Eliot Gardiner's recent concert of sacred works by Mozart); more like a brewing confluence in which a so-called serious music might overrun its limited purview, actually reaching the ears and touching the lives of sophisticated listeners whose habits aren't necessarily our own.
Album - Microbricolages (Delhotel)
Zebulon Pike - And Blood Was Passion (Unfortunate Music)
Celtic Frost - Monotheist (Century Media, due May 30)
Asha Bhosle - Love Supreme (Times Square)
Björk - Selmasongs (Elektra)
Radiohead - Amnesiac (Parlophone)