The month long Lincoln Center 2017 White Light Festival (named for a quote from Arvo Pärt “I could compare my music to white light, which contains all colors"), which has presented 35 events in 13 venues around the city, is coming to a close. A strange, brief but fulfilling entry took place on 1st November in Jazz at Lincoln Center: the unlikely double bill of Mozart’s jolly Divertimento in F major K.138 and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. The production of the latter was developed at the Glimmerglass Festival, in Cooperstown, New York, in 2013, and was receiving its first New York City performance.

Speranza Scappucci conducts the Orchestra of St Luke's © Kevin Yatarola
Speranza Scappucci conducts the Orchestra of St Luke's
© Kevin Yatarola

The Stabat Mater, a two-voice setting of a psalm that describes Mary's misery and suffering at the foot of the cross, hardly lends itself to a dramatic staging, but thanks to marvelously moving direction and choreography by Jessica Lang, eight remarkable dancers, two brilliant singers, and sensitive conducting by Speranza Scappucci, it delivered quite a punch. Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s simple set – a huge angled, constant tree trunk and a horizontal one that came and went to form a cross at times – allowed for free movement and more than suggested starkness; Bradon McDonald's costumes, simple slacks and shirts for the men in earth tones, and sweeping, floor-length dresses for the women with occasional bright colors, added to the fine sense of graceful movement. A blue shawl covered the figure of Mary; at one point four women wore connected shawls forming an epic figure of grief. The flowing modern dance movements never went for anything but harmony with the music and text.

Jessica Lang Dance performing <i>Stabat Mater</i> © Kevin Yatarola
Jessica Lang Dance performing Stabat Mater
© Kevin Yatarola

Soprano Andriana Chuchman has a lovely voice that took a number or two to calm down to a more Baroque delivery of the music; she is essentially a lyric soprano (Zerlina, Adina, Susanna, Gretel) but eventually adjusted. The alto part was taken by the brilliant countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and he stole the show with his stunning, sometimes fierce, sometimes mellow sound. He can trill on any note he wishes; his dynamic range is remarkable and, asked to dance, he proved himself as physically agile as he is vocally agile. Maestra Scappucci led a slow performance of the work – it must be treated differently when it's danced and outside of its liturgical neighborhood. 

Jessica Lang Dance performing <i>Stabat Mater</i> © Kevin Yatarola
Jessica Lang Dance performing Stabat Mater
© Kevin Yatarola

The fifteen-minute Mozart curtain raiser, a bauble from the 16 year old composer, was here arranged, like the Stabat Mater, for fifteen strings of the Orchestra of St Luke's, and they played with spirit and warm tone, singing out the tune of the Andante and otherwise zipping along merrily. It welcomed the audience into the hall and set us up for the more somber, achingly chromatic Pergolesi. A rare bird of a concert, heartily appreciated.

****1