- The Gospel According to the Other Mary, opera
John Adams' "The Gospel According to the Other Mary," first performed in 2012 in Los Angeles, is something of an expansion on the composer's "El Niño," a Passion story adorned with a variety of contemporary themes and musical materials. Like the earlier work, it features a libretto by longtime Adams collaborator Peter Sellars, and it may be sung on-stage as an oratorio or presented as an opera. Mary Magdalene is indeed a central figure in the work, but actually it is more than the trick perspective the title might imply; as with "El Niño" Sellars incorporates such devices as set pieces featuring poetry by other writers (this time poet Louise Erdrich plays the central role). Jesus seems to appear as through a prism, embodied by a trio of countertenors: a typical Adams masterstroke. Bach's Passions are obvious antecedents, but Andrew Clements of the London Guardian has accurately pointed out a resemblance to a work by a composer not much mentioned in the same breath as Adams: Leonard Bernstein's "Mass." The music has similar ambitions and a similar way, although not so extreme, of veering off into contemporary vernacular materials according to the text. This doesn't suit Adams perfectly, although he takes steps, including a recurring use of the cimbalom, to tie all his diverse materials together. At any rate, the work is never boring and often absorbing; the enthusiasm of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the vocal performers, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for the material is palpable; and this sprawling score is clearly recorded. Time will tell whether concert-music big events like this one will have staying power, but there's a lot to chew on here for anyone with the slightest liking for Adams and his democratic, synoptic musical world.