Review by Edward Kliszus

Artistic Director and Conductor Ted Sperling opened tonight’s February 24, 2021, 6:30 pm world premiere, by introducing MasterVoices’ presentation of Chapter 2 of 4 performances entitled Work, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, additional lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh, and orchestrations by Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence. Featured artists included Shoshana Bean, Daniel Breaker, Manik Choksi, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Doug Fitch, Erik Freer, Yoav Gal, Anne Kauffman, John Lithgow, Agnes Loukine, Michael McElroy, Tommy Nguyen, Ailyn Pérez, Nicholas Phan, Adrienne Rogers, Ray Charles White, Aoshuang Zhang, Ted Sperling, and The MasterVoices Chorus.

Chapter 1, Flight, governed the theme of the first installment of Myths and Hymns in January 2021 expressing how we might choose to cope with life’s struggles, or as Ted Sperling explains, how to soar above them before ultimately crashing back to the earth as did Icarus.

Chapter 2, Work, suggests coping with life’s issues through one’s daily vocation, and better yet as Sperling advises, “wrestling with the problem…doing the hard work.”

This is powerful, moving, artistic, thoughtful multi-media messaging of imagery, metaphor, sound, and imagination. I shall describe some aspects, but words alone are insufficient to express the meaning, schema, semblance, or non-discursive truths characterized through beauty, yearning, musical poetry, and ultimate hope and joy.

Work begins with moving live portraits of the MasterVoices chorus members singing in recitatif style “Down and up, and down and down and up and over” across images of gears and moving parts of a clock or watch, metaphorical characterizations of time and the repetitiveness of daily toil.

Children of the Heavenly King, featuring Anthony Roth Constanzo, emerged as a modal plainsong orchestrated in gentle contemporary dissonance, with solo piano accompaniment evolving to wind instruments through the following: “As we journey let us sing, sing our Savior’s worthy praise, glorious in his works in all his works and ways. We are traveling home to God, in the way our fathers trod, they are happy now and we, soon their happiness, we soon their happiness shall see.” First an eye, then a mouth, then a nose, finally just a blinking eye, nose, mouth, and blue sky with white clouds. Through the viewer’s ability to make sense through innate gestalten, we perceive a face floating, resting…resolving over a simple G major triad.

An Eye, nose, and mouth from Children of the Heavenly King. YouTube Screenshot by Edward Kliszus

Akin to the resurrection portrayed in George Frederich Handel’s musical masterpiece Messiah, At the Sounding features Ailyn Pérez, Nicholas Phan and Anthony Roth Constanzo. “At the sounding of the trumpet, when the saints are gathered home, we will greet each other by the crystal sea. With the friend and all the loved ones…what a gathering it will be at the sounding of the glorious jubilee…we will greet each other by the crystal sea”, the scene ending with the fading sounds of waves gently lapping on the shore whilst sea birds sing.

In Build a Bridge, Michael McElroy appears next to a gentle stream in a late winter setting, snow on the ground in small patches, birds singing, delivering a pensive, plaintive song, images of yarn and knitting needles, elder hands of time-earned wisdom, yarn cascading onto the snow-covered ground. “Yes I need you, and I love you, but oh the water’s wide, oh yeah, I am trying to get there, to battle the tide, build a bridge, come to shore, build a bridge, this I’ve heard before, ahhh, I’ll be coming, I am trying to get there, to battle the water. For so many years gone by, the water, the water.”

Before a simple backdrop, John Lithgow performs An Introduction, its play on words akin to childrens’ pig Latin or “Igpay Atinlay”, once devised to hide meaning from a little brother or sister. Here are a few: “the fate forlorn and arduous, that was Sisyphous, tyrannical Egyptian king, that was Sisyphing, full of shrewdness and deceit, that was Sisypheit…cheated death and angered Zeus, that was Sisypheus…happy just to have a job, that was Sisyphob.”

A song of longing and hope, Life is But A Dream, featuring Shoshana Bean, shows our chanteuse set by her fireplace, on a lake, knotty pine walls. “they say that life is but a dream, drifting on a stream, but I’ve begun to wonder, is it really like the song we just gently roll along, it’s not enough there must be more, upon a distant shore, adventure and the thunder of life, open up your arms to me, and I will find my way, in my heart a riddle is, and by the amber light it gives, I will last until I know who I am inside, the outside that I show. From where I sit it doesn’t seem that life is but a dream, it seems like there’s a world out there, open up your arms to me, open up your arms, and you will set me free.” Beautiful, heartwarming, vital.

Every Poodle is a charming celebration of our mesmerizing choristers’ round faces singing and interacting with virtual poodles made of wire, driving little wire cars, dancing to a jazzy tune, bongo drums, flutter tongued bluesy muted trumpet, saxophone, chromatic scaled flutes, arranged over floating, gyrating splotches of a painter’s palette. Joyous, driven, celebratory. Our poodle hero gets the last words with two barks.

This fabulous multi-media venue was beautifully choreographed, recorded and filmed with artists remotely, presenting through song, theater, visual art—its psychic dreamscape expression of the artist’s imagination and ultimate conglomeration through film. It was heartwarming, moving, inspirational, thought-provoking, reflective, pensive, and essential.

As noted in Chapter I, the songs were clever, original, fresh, chromatically complex, and masterfully performed, effectively telling a story while engaging, touching, and moving the listening participant. Performers and musical accompaniment were outstanding…world-class musicians all.

Be sure to tune into the two final chapters, streaming on April 14, and May 26 featuring the MasterVoices chorus; soloists Daniel Breaker, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Joshua Henry, Cheyenne Jackson, directors Trip Cullman, Doug Fitch, Anne Kauffman, and Ted Sperling; visual artist Manik Choksi; lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh; and orchestrators Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence, with additional artists to be announced.

Myths and Hymns is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals:, Hymn texts from The Temple Trio, Hymn Edition, 1886. Artwork created by Mikyung Lee.

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Within Earshot: Anthems for the In-Between, Flight by Mastervoices, and Love by Mastervoices, and Faith by MasterVoices.