Lagrime di San Pietro @ Maison Symphonique – 30 January 2020

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Some stories are universal both in how they can span across different cultures and time itself, decades and centuries even. This was the case of the presentation given by the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Maison Symphonique with the opus, Lagrime Di San Pietro.

This musical work of art was created in the 16th century by Orlando de Lassus and dedicated to Pope Clement VIII, three weeks before the composer died. It was to be his last piece, something he knew, giving him the liberty to fully express himself as he deemed fit and to touch upon a set of 21 poems (representing seven times the number of members of the trinity), written by Luigi Tansillo, that dwelled into the denial of St. Peter and the subsequent grief that he experienced from this betrayal.

Most of the story takes place 30 years after St. Peter’s triple denial of the Messiah. Time has not passed by in vain, just imagine waking up every morning to the sound of the rooster, the sound that marked your betrayal, reminding you in your first waking moments of your great disloyalty to your friend, master and saviour.

The continuous hour and a half in which the 21 performers sing (performing seven polyphonic voices that represent the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary), elapses in what I would call an immersion into what repentance really means, what grief can feel like and what fraternal love can withstand. 

These feelings could be hard to relate to, given how anachronic the devotion and sorrow of an intimate religious experience, the friendship that evokes such affection and the contrition showed are not something we are exposed to or are expected to show nowadays. But the way into how the poems were presented by a choir that went beyond singing but actually expressed the nuances of these emotions in their faces and movements around the scene made it clear as to what the first leader of the Early Church felt.

The image that threads the whole piece is Jesus’ gaze. His eyes penetrate the soul of the Saint when he first denies him and from then on his eyes and the different metaphors that are used to describe them come time and time again, either as swords that pierce the heart, as tongues or as fire itself.

There were no props, just movements from the singers. They laid down, sat, cried, screamed, pleaded to the heavens and mourned as if they themselves committed such an act of cowardice. Their voices filled the theatre and the cathedral-like splendour of the place added to the sanctity of it all.

This holiness was broken every few minutes by the public, their seasonal coughs in unison filled the silences left for reflection while the bright lights of their cellphones illuminated their indifferent faces. People think that nobody will notice, that just once will be forgiven and that one more wet cough will blend in with the music.

Oh! how hard it is to imitate Jesus. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)

Review – Ricardo D. Flores

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