Bernstein Mass cast

ASU School of Music’s production of Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ wins first place in the National Opera Association competition

By

Lynne MacDonald

“Evocative, imaginative, engaging.” “Exquisitely controlled chaos.” “… from the mesmerizing opening scene, I was completely drawn in and it gave me HOPE.”

The Arizona State University School of Music’s production of Bernstein’s “Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” received endless praise from reviewers for the 2018-19 National Opera Association Opera Production Competition, and the production placed first in Collegiate Division VIII.

The school put on the production as part of its 2018-19 season to mark the centennial of the legendary American composer's birth. More than 300 people came together from across the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts to participate in the monumental collaboration.

Brian DeMaris, associate professor and artistic director of ASU Music Theatre and Opera in the School of Music, said he had always been intrigued by Bernstein's "Mass," knowing it to be one of those pieces that can only be understood through experience.

“As soon as I came to ASU in 2015 I knew the School of Music was a place that was positioned to be able to accomplish the piece,” said DeMaris, production manager for "Mass." "With terrific ensembles, a faculty that worked together well, one of the nation’s top orchestral programs, an in-house musical theater and opera program with students skilled in both, and the resources of dance, media and other disciplines in the Herberger Institute’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre, I knew we had the ability to produce and perform it.”

He said Bernstein's 100th anniversary was a perfect opportunity to perform the awe-inspiring production.

Over the course of two years, DeMaris, along with Associate Professor Jeffery Meyer, director of ASU orchestras, and Professor David Schildkret, director of choral activities, discussed the idea and began bringing in potential collaborators.

DeMaris said a commonality among all the collaborators — from music to dance, design and the students — was that, though they did not know what they were getting into, they all realized just how special it was.

“The work is a deeply malleable landscape that can be filled in so many different ways, and we were in a unique position to bring a tremendous amount of creativity and talent to that landscape and really make it a contemporary statement on today’s fractured and contentious world,” Meyer said. “The work gave us the opportunity to feature so much of what makes ASU a tremendous artistic force and breathe new life into this masterpiece of Bernstein’s output.”

Meyer said that without a doubt the most challenging aspect of the production was marshalling the mind-boggling number of unique, diverse and disparate performing forces.

“It was a challenge and a thrill unlike I have ever experienced,” he said.

As the music director, Meyer was the center of gravity for the more than 300 performers, which included singers, soloists, instrumentalists, dancers, a marching band, a rock band, a jazz band and the Phoenix Boys Choir, all working across vast spaces in different mediums.

“This experience is one of the most meaningful artistic ventures I've ever been a part of and I am very grateful for the recognition, so well deserved by all 300-plus individuals involved,” DeMaris said.

The ASU production of Bernstein’s “Mass,” including bringing in guest artist Jubilant Sykes, was made possible by funding from the ASU School of Music and a Mellon Foundation Grant through the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Ancillary events included community dialogues and panel discussions curated by Schildkret in collaboration with Barrett, The Honors College, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Center for Jewish Studies and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.