Queens College is hosting a full staging of “Mass,” an awe-inspiring musical about the crisis of faith, composed by the legendary musician Leonard Bernstein. More than 200 artists will take to the stage for two performances on Nov. 1 and 2 at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts.
Renowned conductor Maurice Peress, who was at the helm of the musical’s premiere performance in 1971, will conduct this performance too.
Due to the large number of performers required for a full staging, “Mass” is more often performed as a concert piece. It is rare to see a full staging. This performance features Queens College students from the Aaron Copland School of Music, and members of the Queens College Opera Studio, Choir, Women’s Choir, Children’s Choir, Jazz Ensemble, and Orchestra. Victor Starsky, tenor and student at Aaron Copland, has been cast as the Celebrant, the central character in this musical.
Bernstein’s “Mass” was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. “Mass” begins by showing performers from different genres being in harmony. However, soon discord sets in and as the crisis of faith hits its peak, the Celebrant sings a solo about losing his faith.
“Mass” was composed in honor of John F. Kennedy. Peress, who was assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Bernstein, writes about it in his new memoir “Maverick Maestro,” slated to release in March. In the book, Peress calls “Mass” a “compelling dramatic story” in which “the loss of a beloved leader who gave us hope is honored by a formal Latin Mass, at the same time a young street community asks tough questions as they search for faith.”
He also says that as he studies the familiar piece again, “fresh and deeper insights surface.” He regrets that the message is still timely. “In 1971, the quicksand of Vietnam dominated the news, now it is the Middle East,” he wrote.
Something else has changed in the 43 years since Peress first conducted “Mass.” The stage director then was Gordon Davidsonbut for these two performances, Peress’ daughter Lorca will be the stage director. Lorca is the founder and artistic director of MultiStages, a multicultural, multidisciplinary theater based in New York that has won quite a few awards since its inception in 1997.
Harry Feiner, a Broadway professional and professor of drama at Queens College, is in charge of set and lighting.
Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” will be performed on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 2, at 3 p.m. at the Colden Auditorium at Kupferberg Center for the Arts, Queens College. Tickets cost from $15 to $25 and can be purchased online at www.kupferbergcenter.org or by calling 718-570-0923 or at the box office in Colden Auditorium. Additional fees may apply.
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