Did you know that the FBI shadowed Leonard Bernstein for decades? He was suspected of having communist sympathies. One of the reasons was – at least according to The New Yorker – the planned premiere in 1971 of his Mass, an eleven-part ‘Theatre piece for singers, actors and dancers’, based on the Latin mass, with English texts by Stephen Schwartz (and Bernstein himself) and dedicated to the assassinated President J.F. Kennedy.
According to the FBI, Bernstein “concocted a left-wing plot to embarrass the, then-President, Nixon, with an ‘anti-war’ composition.”
It is a story – briefly put – about a boy who is forced by his friends to become a priest while he prefers to honour God with his guitar and his songs: ‘Sing God a simple song…. for God is the simplest of all’. At the end, he desecrates the altar and regains his trust in God.
To me, the work with its strong reminiscences of ‘Hair’ and ‘The Age of Aquarius’ feels quite dated, and the rock-solid performance under Yannick Nézet-Séguin can’t do anything to change that.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin on Bernstein and his Mass:
I am very surprised that the Mass has not been released on DVD. For although the composition is really strong and the purely vocal/instrumental part may be called grandiose: the whole still lacks an essential part of what Bernstein had in mind.