I cannot fathom the number of bruises the 21 bodies comprising the Los Angeles Master Chorale will have as they continue to trudge through their world tour performance of “Lagrime di San Pietro.”
“Lagrime di San Pietro,” meaning “Tears of St. Peter,” is an Italian Renaissance choral piece composed by Franco-Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso in 1594. The piece depicts the seven stages of grief experienced by St. Peter after he renounced his affiliation with Jesus Christ before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. Upon Jesus’s arrest, many of his disciples and followers fled or were punished alongside him. St. Peter is a subject of particular focus upon the arrest of Jesus because of his denial of Christ. St. Peter can be seen as a figure of betrayal — both betrayal of a friend and betrayal of faith — and as such, Peter spent the rest of his life full of regret for his disloyalty. Peter is effectively stuck pondering on his sin, while the rest of the world marches on. As described by Doyle Amburst, violist for the Spektral Quartet, “The tragedy in this story is not the accident. It is the catastrophe of being left behind.”
“Lagrime” is an ancient piece, one that has been performed countless times for countless audiences because of its beautiful harmonies and emotional storyline. The Los Angeles Master Chorale, guided by Conductor Grant Gershon and Director Peter Sellars, embraces a novel element to “Lagrime”: kinesiology.
The Master Chorale enter the stage lacking shoes and garbed in loose gray clothing, depicting the drab mental state of Peter. And though this outfit is not entirely far off from the dress of the era, the clothes, more importantly, allow the singers to move about the stage freely. This introduces a new, kinetic art form to the traditionally choral piece, and the group uses it well.
Throughout the piece, dramatic movements are scored by strong Italian lyrics that may correspond with or contradict what is being sung. As Peter was being metaphorically shot with arrows, the singers toppled to the floor in pain while maintaining proper intonation. After a moment of silence at the end of a piece, the singers slowly maneuvered to their feet, mimicking the malaise mornings of Peter’s as he was reminded of his regret.
Some of the group’s movements, especially those that are not easy on the body, were heavily repeated — I cannot count the number of times the singers fell to their knees, laid on the stage, jumped up quickly, clutched their chest or clutched their fellow performers. Upon reflection, however, the repetitive oscillation of visible activity and lethargy elegantly mirrored the cycle of depression felt by Peter. This ability to be actively moving and not miss a musical beat is a feat in and of itself. To also incorporate meaning into those movements shows true mastery of the piece.
In addition to bodily representations of the music, lighting became a key part of the performance. As the singers described the cold felt by Peter, the lights became a diffuse to a dim white. Upon the revival of spring, the lights became warmer, as the snow melted. Not only did the lights brighten, but the singers moved more gracefully and the notes being sung were softer and warmer. In effect, the lighting created even more feeling and emotion. Changes in lighting can easily become distracting and conflict with the piece. However, the lighting techniques used in “Lagrime” were expertly carried out.
The performance runs approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. The audience must sit through the whole grieving process of St. Peter: the anger, the depression and the contemplations of suicide. There is no break from the grief, no opportunity to slip away. But to be encapsulated by this performance for 80 minutes was not something difficult to do.