Master Voices (a large chorus based at City Center here in NYC) presented a series of online concerts, a large, complex piece called *Myths and Hymns* by Adam Guettel. Chapter 1, “Flight,” premiered on January 13th (I watched it February 10th). The piece is being rolled out a month at a time and will be available for viewing until June 30, 2021. The first segment is less than 30 minutes long. Check it out:
Guettel is best known as the composer of the Broadway musical *The Light in the Piazza,* which I saw in 2006. That show is exceptional, so strong and lyrical and effective. I should also mention Guettel’s musical theatre pedigree: his mother is Mary Rodgers, who wrote the music for *Once Upon a Mattress* and thank you, Wikipedia, I didn’t know that she wrote the novel *Freaky Friday*! And yes, Mary Rodgers is the daughter of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you don’t recognize any of those names, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Let me give credit to the whole crew:
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Additional lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
Orchestrations by Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence
New choral arrangements by Ted Sperling
Production conceived, supervised, and conducted by Ted Sperling
The first movement, “Prometheus,” was an overture for the piano duo Anderson and Roe. They were fierce! So exciting, a perfect way to open the concert. I should mention that the camera work throughout was thoughtful and creative but never tricked out or cutesie. Thank you for that, Master Voices. This movement was directed by Greg Anderson.
Joshua Henry sang the moody first song, “Saturn Returns: The Flight. (directed by Ted Sperling).” He appeared to be in his apartment! It was cool seeing a poster for *Shuffle Along* in the background. The song ended with him losing his cool and needing to get out of his apartment, something many of us can relate to.
This dropped into the next song, “Icarus,” sung by Mykal Kilgore and Norm Lewis (directed by Sammi Cannold), with backup vocals by members of Master Voices (chiming in from their small Zoom screens on the side). This song had a fabulous funky beat, I loved it.
“Migratory V” (directed by Lear Debessonet) was sung by three women on the classical side of the spectrum: Julia Bullock, Renée Fleming, and Kelli O’Hara. I’m often annoyed by Fleming but she chose to rein in her bad impulses in this case. Thank you, Renée Fleming. I don’t have a lot of familiarity with Julia Bullock, but she was delicious. What can I say about Kelli O’Hara, I adore her, she’s so sincere and direct and has such a gorgeous, pristinely clear voice. The three of them sang in harmony at the end of the song, that was genuinely touching.
“Pegasus” (directed by Ted Sperling) started with a sort of once-upon-a-time narration done by Annie Golden, who I had seen in *Xanadu: The Musical* years ago. Jose Llana was the first singer in this song, and I wasn’t wild for him, his singing was a little loose and full-blown for my taste. But oh Lord, Capathia Jenkins! All hall Capathia Jenkins! I’ve seen her and heard her a number of times, she is a force of nature. She had a supporting role in this context, but it’s always a joy to see her. Elizabeth Stanley was a hoot as the gadfly who bit Pegasus, it was a treat to have a little overt comedy.
The final song in this segment was “Jesus, the Mighty Conqueror” sung by Take 6 (directed by Khristian Dentley). Those guys are beyond belief and Guettel wrote the piece gloriously with them in mind. This song also had backing vocals by Master Voices. Another song with a funky groove and some tasty harmonies, very FM radio, just what I needed.
+ + + +
I watched the second part of *Myths and Hymns* online on March 2nd (it was live on February 24th). The first part was called “Flight.” This part was called “Work.”
It opened with a short chorus followed by a hymn-like solo by Anthony Roth Cosantzo, “Children of the Heavenly King.” Lovely song. Costanzo also directed the video, and the next video.
The next song, “At the Sounding,” was an energetic number for Costanzo, Ailyn Pérez, Nicholas Phan, and the chorus. Fabulous music, very exciting. The three soloists didn’t really seem to have much to do. Costanzo, Pérez, and Phan are all extraordinary classical singers, if you’re going to write something for them, why not write something that really shows them off?
“Build a Bridge” was a soulful ballad sung beautifully by Michael McElroy, sitting beside a babbling brook. This song featured some fantastic writing for electric guitar and electric bass. The video featured a woman knitting and dropping her knitting in the snow. I didn’t quite get that, but I don’t need to, I suppose. The video was directed by Ted Sperling.
John Lithgow gave a spoken introduction to the next number, reading a poem about Sisyphus. The poem was goofy but he delivered it like it was good. That’s entertainment! The song about Sisyphus was sung by Daniel Breaker. The video was a cute animation showing Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill (directed by Anne Kaufman, animation by Manik Choksi).
“Life is But a Dream” was sung by Shoshana Bean. This was the best song in the segment, it was a gorgeous pop ballad. It gave me chills, which happens very rarely these days. Yes, I am very quickly moved to tears, but chills, that’s another matter. The video was mostly just her singing into a mic in a cabin (directed by Ted Sperling).
“Every Poodle” once again featured Pérez, Constanzo, and Phan. The animation was really cool, with lots of marvelous animated line drawings of poodles, surrounded by dots and bubbles. I make it sound kinda dippy, but take my word for it, it was cool (directed by Doug Fitch, animated by Tommy Nguyen). But once again the trio of soloists were underutilized. But the song was fantastic, it had a great beat, some funky rhythms, a nice balance of singing and instrumentals, and a sure sense of what it was doing. It gave a rousing finish to the segment.
I'll make an overarching comment about the whole project and say that Adam Guettel is the star of the show. The music is so strong, he is a really gifted composer.