The opening weekend of the new Los Angeles Master Chorale season was devoted to Orlando di Lasso’s late masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro. I’m still working through the extraordinary effect the performance had on me — and I know I’m far from alone.
Overall, I was left with an experience I associate with late Beethoven and Parsifal. It was genuinely that special. I’m fascinated by the line of development in Peter Sellars’s work from his stagings of the Bach Passions through John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary (also with the Master Chorale) and Kaija Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone. And of course his work on Stravinsky. James F. Ingalls’s lighting design added a rich layer, yet another strand of counterpoint.
The rehearsals — a record total of 26 to bring this to the stage — were reportedly grueling: a combination of boot camp and spiritual retreat. And the incredible technical challenge of committing so much of this music along with the choreography and gestures was taken for granted. Not that this was an “effortless” performance — far from it, the strain and exhaustion entailed in bringing this music and its message to life added to the powerful impact.
Mark Swed’s review I found especially incisive:
Normally, we turn to death-invoking music for its transformative powers. The final great works of Beethoven (the late string quartets), Mozart (the unfinished Requiem) or Mahler (the Ninth Symphony’s probe of dying embers) help us transcend despair. Di Lasso’s “Lagrime,” however, is by a deeply depressed composer in the days before meds, someone who only wants his misery to end. It did in 1594, three weeks after finishing the score.
“Lagrime” is a major accomplishment for the Master Chorale, which sang and acted brilliantly. It is also a major accomplishment for music history. The company hopes to keep this production alive, touring it, and if the music business chooses to honor the just, that will be a saint’s compensation.