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Six US and European arts organisations co-commissioned this large-scale companion piece and narrative antipode to John Adams’s millennium oratorio on the Nativity, El Niño. The Gospel According to the Other Mary uses biblical texts and a wide range of poetry from Primo Levi and a majority of female writers from Hildegard of Bingen to Dorothy Day and Rosa Castellano. Christ’s Passion is seen through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, who time-travel as witnesses to some of the many horrors – particularly violence against women – which besmirch contemporary society. Jesus appears not as a character but through the narrative device of a trio of counter-tenors. The juxtaposition of the numinous and the prosaic (as some of the poetry strikes the ear), drawn from so many sources, does not always make for ideal stylistic coherence, but certainly does accord with the view of the work’s director for staging, Peter Sellars, that the model of Bach’s Passions ‘show[s] a community trying to remember, question, and gradually make sense of what has happened to them after they’ve lived through devastation.’ The subject has inspired Adams to compose music of rare accomplishment. This vast oratorio is a stylistic smorgasbord of rhythms, colours and textures which are viscerally responsive to the poles of lyricism and violence – and every nuance in between – in the libretto, not least through the continuous presence of bass guitar and cimbalom in the scoring. Gustavo Dudamel, his soloists and Los Angeles forces are captured in vivid, deeply resonant sound, bringing Adams’s score brilliantly into focus. As the work’s opening bars crashed straight into the action with no preamble, I thought this Passion really needs to be seen.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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