In one of the most extraordinary experiences an operagoer is likely to see, the Glimmerglass Festival mounted Jessica Lang’s production of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1736 “Stabat Mater (There Stands the Mother)” based on a 13th century Latin poem of uncertain authorship.
The vocal music, written for two high voices, was sung by Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and Soprano Nadine Sierra. Composed for church services by the dying 26 year old Pergolesi, the poem expresses the words of an observer of Mary’s grief at the crucifixion of Jesus.
[Below: Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (above) with Ensemble Dancer Jason Fowler (below); edited image, based on a Jamie Kraus photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Pennsylvanian Jessica Lang is the artistic director and choreographer of Jessica Lang Dance, the professional dance troupe.
However, for “Stabat Mater” – consistent with the Glimmerglass Festival’s philosophy of encouraging the integration of vocal music and dance by training artists who excel in both disciplines – Lang created an inspired performance using the Glimmerglass Young Artists exclusively.
[Below: Choreographer Jessica Lang; resized image of a promotional photograph.]
There is an astonishingly emotional impact from Pergolesi’s hypnotically melodious music and the constant but always elegantly conceived motion of Lang’s choreography.
[Below: Soprano Nadine Sierra with Ensemble members; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Both of the principal singers were engaged in the complex series of dance moves and body movements.
If the singers’ dance steps were slightly less demanding than their dance counterparts, both Costanzo and Sierra were singing virtually the entire performance, with Costanzo at times singing from physically demanding postures.
[Below: Soprano Nadine Sierra (second from right) and Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (far right) with, in the background, ensemble dancers Andrea Beasom, Anne O’Donnell, Sarah Parnicky and Lily Smith); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
The quality of the dancing that one witnessed suggests professional specialists in dance. Yet every one of the eight dancers – Andrea Beasom, Jason Fowler, Maurio Hines, Danny Lindgren, Anne O’Donnell, Sarah Parnicky, Eliot Peterson and Lily Smith – had singing assignments in other Glimmerglass Festival shows.
Louisiana bass-baritone Jason Fowler had a lead role among the men dancers. In addition to his dancing in “Stabat Mater” he was among the chorus members who comprised Daland’s crew in the Glimmerglass Festival’s Wagnerian offering [See Ryan McKinny, Melody Moore, Jay Hunter Morris Soar in “Flying Dutchman” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2013]. The next night he was one of the singers who comprised Mordred’s band of rebellious knights in “Camelot”.
[Below: Bass-baritone Jason Fowler is a lead dancer in the “Stabat Mater” dance ensemble; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
California soprano Andrea Beasom, not only was a lead “Stabat Mater” dancer, but also choreographed the “Little Match Girl Passion” that shared the double bill with “Stabat Mater”. In the 2012 Glimmerglass Festival she participated in the chorus and dance ensembles of three different productions.
North Carolina tenor Maurio Hines sings and dances in “Flying Dutchman” and “Camelot”, as does Washington State “bari-tenor” Danny Lindgren and Colorado tenor Eliot Peterson.
[Below: the vocalists with members of the Ensemble, from left to right Maurio Hines (far left, dimly lit), Anne O’Donnell (front), Jason Fowler (facing away), countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (in spotlight) ; Sarah Parnicky (front), Danny Lindgren (behind Sarah), soprano Nadine Sierra, Eliot Peterson (far right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Opera.]
Pennsylvania mezzo-soprano Anne O’Donnell sings and dances in the chorus for “Flying Dutchman” and “King for a Day”, while Oregon soprano Sarah Parnicky also sings and dances in the chorus of “Flying Dutchman” and “Camelot”.
Other Artistic Contributions
Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci conducted reverentially, her command of Pergolesi’s through-composed rhythmic structure always in evidence.
The principal structures of the Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s sets were two massive logs that sometimes formed a cross, but which gradually moved from a parallel state to oblique angles from one another. The movements of these log structures constantly interacted with the dance patterns.
Beth Goldenberg designed the costumes, Mark McCullough developed the lighting.
The simultaneous standing ovation and vociferous applause at the “Stabat Mater’s” end signalled that the audience reaction to this extraordinary creation was as unanimously positive as any audience one would expect to see.
I recommend this production without reservation.