Music Review: LAGRIME DI SAN PIETRO (TEARS OF ST. PETER) (Los Angeles Master Chorale)

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by Daniel S. G. Wood on March 21, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


At a gala performance honoring Los Angeles Master Chorale donors, Peter Sellar’s critically acclaimed staging of Lagrime di San Pietro returned to Disney Hall with an encore of such luminous majesty and originality that it’s an honor to have this version of Orlando di Lasso’s last work continue on a global tour representing our city’s incredible ensemble.

Basically a collection of “spiritual madrigals” — a cycle of intense reflections on the sorrows of St. Peter following his denial of Christ — the music can feel as dense as the topic (“totally sculptural” as Sellars put it). Long treated as a Renaissance master’s historical piece that musicologists have to know, this production tapped the depth di Lasso was no doubt going for. In this version, 21 members of LAMC, barefoot and clad in clay-toned casual garb, sang the pieces from memory while executing very involved choreography (“choralography”). As the equally shoeless conductor Grant Gershon fearlessly mingled among them, the group navigated with effortlessness and sheer technique the demanding High Renaissance style.

While Sellar’s movements could be a bit on the nose, he chiefly communicated the painful subtext of Luigi Tansillo’s poetry, and even fortified the vocal action: Agitated movements reinforced accents in the score and vocalizing into the floor would mute the end of a movement. James F. Ingalls’ heavenly lighting — mirrored by the gray costumes — alternately added warmth or reflected the bleakness of the score. These details closed the gap and made accessible the humanity in an otherwise reverential document.

In fact, the choice to stage each section felt essential by the final chapter, “Behold, man, how I suffer for you,” the only strict “motet” in the collection. While the singers embraced each other, they sang of Jesus rebuking Peter and mankind from the cross; this exalted the conclusion even more, spawning a glorious misalliance. Somehow this cumulative moment distilled and made palpable the guilt of Peter in a way the music alone could not.

Far more than a chorale concert, Gershon and Sellars’ exhilarating insight into this 75-minute piece opens up a whole new world of possibilities for music. Hopefully, as the unique show tours, it will inspire other music organizations to think outside of the usual tiered-riser performance.

photos by Patrick Brown

Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter)
Grant Gershon, conductor
Peter Sellars, director
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played Sat and Sun, March 17 & 18, 2018
continues on global tour into 2019
for dates and cities visit LAMC

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