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Classical 101

Menotti's Mass of Beauty

Musica Sacra presents two hours of sacred choral music, Sunday nights at 8. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11/ approaching (who can believe it?) I'm intensifying my listening to find new works that will be attractive to the public and have more direct spiritual meaning as well. I'm coming up with a new mix, but there's one work I had long known about but never heard. Gian-Carlo Menotti's Mass O Pulchritudo is among his least known works. I wonder why. The estimable William Ferris chorale in Chicago has recently published a 1982 performance, with the composer (who died at 95 in 2007) in attendance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDFxH1T62Co Menotti's Mass curbs the bombast a bit of his greatest operas, The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street. But I wouldn't call the work devotional, with one exception. The Credo is replaced by a setting from Thomas Aquinas: "O beauty, ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you." There you get a whiff of the close harmony of Palestrina. Elsewhere, Menotti is theatrical in his use of the orchestra. The choral writing can be a bit dull-there are occasional "blocks of sound" where the inspiration lags, but the cumulative effect is quite powerful. Menotti was loved by audiences-if you claim never to have wept at Amahl and the Night Visitors, you're fooling. The critics have always hated his works. True, some of the lateer operas (La Loca, OY!) are more phoned in. But I think The Consul is a great American opera when we are not overrun with great American operas, and many of Menotti's works, including the Missa O Pulchritudo are worth knowing better.