Sunday, August 19, 2007

Magical Realism – "La Pasión según San Marcos" by Osvaldo Golijov

In Jose Saramago’s, 1991 novel, “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” (the novel which most closely rivals his masterpiece, "Blindness”), Jesus is depicted as an everyman both surprised and distressed as the supernatural encroaches on his otherwise ordinary reality. Saramago’s Jesus came strongly to mind Sunday evening as I listened to Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos. The role of “evangelist," the voice responsible for the words of Jesus, is shared by a diverse group of soloists from the inspiring, Schola Cantorum de Venezuela. I live just south of Columbia University on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a neighborhood that due to rapid gentrification, only has a vestigial Latino population. When I moved here after Juilliard in 1993, summer meant loud salsa music and a lively street culture.

Those summer evenings came flooding to mind during Golijov’s Pasión when a woman indistinguishable from any of the neighborhood grandmothers, stepped up to the microphone and, with drums and horns blaring Latin dance rhythms, declaimed the words of Christ in the first person. Revelation! This remarkable singer, pictured to the right was Gioconda Cabrera.

One of the mysterious biblical names for Jesus is Son of Man. Son of God is specific, unique. Son of Man (gender neutrality assumed) describes all of us. Throughout Pasión, as different voices took the evangelist’s role, I saw a deeper truth in the appellation. The grandmother on the stoop is the Son of Man, so is the store clerk, and so might we all be.

The words of Judas are equally shared by soloists from the chorus, and as he plots his money-soaked treachery, the choir asks, “Will I be the one” to betray Christ? Within each of us is the possibility to embody the Son of Man or betray him.

A great man once told me that we each must take pen in hand and write “the script to our own lives.” Golijov’s Pasión asks, when the drums start and the horns blow, who will we be, and what will we say?

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