LA Phil tuning up the programs they are taking on tour (part 3 of 3): pondering how much better “The Other Mary” v2.0 actually is
March 23, 2013 5 Comments
The Los Angeles Philharmonic is in the midst of the continental European leg of its tour to London, Lucerne, Paris, and New York. Reviews of concerts in London have been consistent in their high praise of the orchestra’s performance and sound in the fairly adventurous repertoire they have taken on the road. On balance, they have generally been keen on Gustavo Dudamel’s interpretations of the 20th and 21st Century works he’s conducted, and while their comments often mirrored my own concerns about his choice in tempi in La mer and Firebird, you get the sense that his interpretations were more like what I heard during the second performance I attended — smoother and less tentative.
Then there is John Adams’s reworking of The Gospel According to the Other Mary. The reviews gave generous kudos to the performers, but have been mixed about the merits of the composition and dramaturgy.
- Local critics, most of whom had experienced its previous incarnation last year, were generally positive about the So Cal performance, with Tim Mangan giving it a thumbs up, Brian at OutWestArts having mostly positive things to say, Mark Swed gushing over it (again), and David Littlejohn calling it a “triumph.” I spoke to others who saw both versions, and they all found the newer one to be a thoroughly enjoyable, even inspiring, work.
- London writers have been less enthusiastic. Ivan Hewitt in The Telegraph says, “One can only salute the care, attention to detail and sincere intentions that went into the oratorio’s making. Unfortunately, as with other pieces from the Adams/Sellars workshop, this one suffers from an excess of good intentions.” In The Independent, Michael Church writes, “If the first act was dismal, the second was a sort of redemption . . .” The summary for Andrew Clark’s review in the Financial Times states, “John Adams’ operatic oratorio is hampered by long-time collaborator Peter Sellars, though his musical imagination still shines through.”
I find it interesting and completely understandable that opinions differ on opposite sides of the pond. I saw the second L.A. performance of The Other Mary, and I happen to agree with the California critics I mention above in that this iteration of The Other Mary is better than last year’s: Peter Sellars’s relatively restrained staging makes the drama more comprehensible; the musical textures are noticeably less thick, so the singers are no longer overwhelmed by the orchestra; and the performances of all involved were uniformly top-notch.
Of course, those critics in England had a purer experience since they didn’t have the benefit/burden of knowing what it was like previously. Their reactions sound a lot like the same mixture of compliments and frustrations showered upon The Other Mary by many folks, myself included, when it premiered last year.
I wonder how much knowing how it used to be makes the newer version look better by comparison, like the 400 lb person who loses 150 pounds: if you knew them back when, they look so much better today and you’re thrilled at what they were able to achieve. If you never knew them before, you think, “Gee, that 250 lb person would look so much better if only they dropped some weight.”