Wright State, DPO perform Bernstein’s MASS

The most complex and controversial work of composer Leonard Bernstein will unfold on the Schuster Center stage for two nights this week in a production that involves nearly 200 performers.

Bernstein’s MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers will fuse the talents of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra (DPO) and the Wright State University departments of music, theatre and dance. More than 100 Wright State students and faculty are involved in the production.

MASS will be performed May 13 and 14, at 8 p.m. both evenings.

“I really see this as an event for the Dayton region,” said DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman.

The piece uses the structure of a Catholic Mass to tell the story of a personal spiritual journey. However, it’s rarely performed in its entirety due to its massive scope. The show features a chorus of 60 singers, 19 actors in a “street chorus,” 10 dancers and a 19-member children’s choir. Musicians include a 90-piece orchestra, a five-piece rock band and a three-piece blues band.

“It’s a huge challenge logistically to put all this together,” said W. Stuart McDowell, chair and artistic director of Wright State’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures.

Pulling off a production of such epic proportions required a creative team from several disciplines.

The DPO’s Gittleman will conduct with Greg Hellems of Wright State’s theatre faculty stage directing. Wright State dance professor Gina Gardner-Walther has choreographed the piece. Hank Dahlman, D.M.A., of the Wright State Department of Music, is the chorale director.

The production will also include the Kettering Children’s Choir under the direction of Natalie DeHorn and noted tenor John Wesley Wright in the crucial role of “The Celebrant.”

While MASS gives Wright State students an excellent chance to perform with a professional arts organization, it also gives them a rare opportunity  to work with their fellow students.

“The music and theatre departments are both so busy, but we don’t get the chance to work with each other very often,” said Dahlman. “This is probably the largest collaborative effort between the two departments, at least in my memory and I’ve been here 20 years.”

MASS was first commissioned by former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the national arts center named in honor of her late husband, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The work premiered as part of the Kennedy Center’s opening festivities on September 8, 1971.

“Even though it was written in the ‘70s, there’s not anything in the show that isn’t relevant today,” said Hellems.

The production will conclude the DPO’s 2010-2011 Miami Valley & Good Samaritan Hospitals Classical Series. It is sponsored by Wright State University and presented with additional support by CELIA, the Wright State University Center of Excellence in Collaborative Education, Leadership and Innovation in the Arts.

Tickets range from $9 to $59 and can be purchased by calling (888) 228-3630 or online at http://www.daytonphilharmonic.com.

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