ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A thousand blows of self-remorse spear Peter’s heart.
Orlando di Lasso’s final composition outlines the saint’s seven stages of grief for denying Christ three times. The Los Angeles Master Chorale will perform “Lagrime di San Pietro” (“Tears of St. Peter”) at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Friday, May 31.
The decision to present the piece gestated when famed director Peter Sellars and conductor Grant Gershon were working on the 2011 production of Vivaldi’s “Griselda” at the Santa Fe Opera.
“I remember Peter saying if we agreed to tackle this, it would be the hardest thing either one of us has ever done,” Gershon said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “He’s sometimes prone to a bit of hyperbole, but I realized he was absolutely right.”
When most of us think of Italian composers, names like Vivaldi, Rossini, Puccini and Verdi come to mind. Music lovers can be forgiven for scratching their heads at the mention of Di Lasso.
“He had the bad luck of being at the height of his powers as (the Renaissance) was coming to a close,” Gershon said. “I like to refer to it as the greatest masterpiece that nobody’s heard.”
Di Lasso penned his 1594 opus in seven-part polyphony, creating mini-dramas or madrigals out of each one. Sellars and Gershon decided to stage the performances in a setting as vivid as the music. The 21 singers writhe, embrace, roll and gesture in their agony.
“It’s truly about the human condition,” Gershon said. “All of us have had episodes in our lives that we’re not proud of and carry with us. It’s (about) how to go on and what it means to confront that part over which you have the most shame. (Di Lasso’s) commitment to share these personal truths is something that resonates 500 years later.”
The music carries the work beyond that despair.
“It has a radiance and a lightness in every phrase; the sense of building a cathedral of sound through voices of sound,” Gershon said.
The Los Angeles Master Chorale premiered the piece just days before the 2016 election.
“It’s about the end of an era,” Gershon said. “People find it absolutely revelatory.”
The chorale will travel to Berkeley, Calif.; London; and Paris before landing in Santa Fe.