The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Peter Sellars (l) and John Adams(Photo:
Peter Sellars (l) and John Adams(Photo:

It wasn’t so long ago that you could be run out of Dodge if you questioned the sincerity of any of the Peter Sellars-John Adams collaborations.

Nevermind Sellar’s productions of the Mozart-daPonte operas (two of them I loved) or Handel’s Giulio Cesare set poolside at the Beirut Hilton-loved that, too. The Death of Klinghoffer has been much in the news, the Metropolitan’s scheduled live in HD presentation abruptly cancelled after roars of complaint, not least from the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer.

He was the elderly gentleman thrown overboard in his wheelchair by Palestinian hijackers. I’m not the only one queasy at an opera written around a gruesome tragedy of living memory.

Nixon in China raised hackles before its premiere in 1985. Another Cambridge-Harvard Sq. condemnation of the President as crook. (Yes, he was). Instead we got an opera if not completely respectful has moments of great poignancy. Another hit and I loved it, too.

Now comes The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Are they going after Scripture, now? No.

This oratorio on the role of Mary Magdalene does use scripture, and includes texts by Primo Levi, June Jordan, Hildegard von Bingen and one of my heroes, Dorothy Day. I thought of Day and the Catholic Worker movement she founded on first hearing of The Gospel According to the Other Mary before I knew selections from her autobiography, The Long Loneliness had been used.

It’s not a far leap from anointing the feet of Christ to soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City.

The Gospel According to the Other Mary was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Lincoln Center. Gustavo Dudamel conducted the premiere and leads the recording. A trio of countertenors join Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Peter Sellars discusses this work better than anyone else could:

The mix of memoir, scripture and contemporary poetry with music of subtlety and beauty infuse this new work. Like all important new works of words, music and theater, it works its spell slowly, and it makes you think. You may not like it, but you will never forget this Gospel.