Ed's talk: Oct 27, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Lenny Mass

Bernstein's "Mass" certainly has its moments! That they aren't the ones intended isn't surprising since the man was constantly upstaging the artist. Anthony Tommasini and others all mention the cringe-making moments and then, as if to excuse them, points to others in older and greater composers such as Mahler in his Symphonies and Beethoven in Fidelio.

But, in general, these composers did not base their entire concepts on a cringe-inducing idea as in the Mass.

The concept of a Church Mass which mirrors the angst, both personal and global, of an era is an idea which doesn't work as a whole, in my opinion. That a young priest would have such an obvious nervous breakdown on the altar defies reality too much in my opinion.

Mr. Tommasini correctly points to the "highlights" of the piece but this does not point to frequent revivals of the whole piece, only for performances of excerpts.

Mr. Bernstein became increasingly self-indulgent as the years wore on and his behavior on and off-stage got more and more bizarre. This self-indulgence clearly led directly to his death whatever the real cause of it was. It seems to me that an artist owes it to himself and his work to keep his health in as good a shape as possible, though I realize that is often not the case with many creative people.

That Lenny acquired an inflated ego early on is not in dispute. But later he had developed such a swelled head that he was led into, for instance, recording a CD of "West Side Story", one of his really great works, with Kiri te Kanawa as Maria and Jose Carreras (!!!) as Tony. Then he proceeded, after his own bit of really bad casting, to belabor poor Mr. Carreras for not being Tony! Duh!

This failed attempt to make a superior musical into an opera made him look very foolish as did many of his other actions.

One might also mention his inability to "shut up" during the, otherwise rather interesting, late recording of "Candide".

Mr. Bernstein will continue to be remembered for what he did really well and I think it's best to draw a discreet veil over the rest.