As the pandemic shutdown of in-person performances continues, MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale) is bringing its 79th 2021 season online from January through May, with Myths and Hymns, a four-part theatrical song cycle by NYC-based Tony Award-winning composer/lyricist Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza). The series, launching on Wednesday, January 13, will feature an all-star roster of vocalists from Broadway, the opera, pop, and gospel performing 23 songs, with new choral arrangements and digital staging conceived by Ted Sperling, and each visually illuminated by an original short film.
Founded by American choral conductor Robert Shaw in 1941, MasterVoices was the first interracial and interfaith chorus in the US. The company, for which Sperling, a Tony-winning classically-trained musician, has served as Artistic Director since 2013, became known for its versatile repertoire, which has included everything from choral masterpieces to operas in concert, operettas, musical theater, and rarely-performed works. Throughout its history, the group has sung and recorded with such noted conductors as Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, and Riccardo Muti, and performed at the opening of the United Nations.
Inspired by the ancient Greek myths of Icarus, Pegasus, Hero and Leander, and Sisyphus, and a 19th-century Presbyterian hymnal, Guettel’s 1998 cycle, originally entitled Saturn Returns, employs a kaleidoscopic collection of musical genres to explore the nature of faith and longing in a secular world, with the central issue of a “hunger inside” that is not easily categorized or satisfied, a feeling that something has been lost, and a yearning for completion and fulfillment. Short musical films will illustrate the protagonist’s personal voyage, attempting to seek answers in four ways, through Flight, Work, Love, and Faith. The themed chapters will be released in free digital installments at 6:30 pm, on January 13, February 24, April 14, and May 26.
Sperling explained, “I’ve thought for years that this piece would merit revisiting with MasterVoices, and now it’s proving to be the perfect project for us to tackle during the COVID era. I always aim to choose material for MasterVoices that has a relationship to the issues and feelings that we as a community are facing, and while this collection doesn’t spring from this sort of external crisis, it does explore an internal one . . . a crisis of purpose, a feeling of being lost, of having ‘a hunger inside me.’ As many of us struggle to figure out how to keep moving forward when so many options seem unavailable, I hope this project will bring a sense of joy and possibility to our performers, collaborators, and audience.”
In the first chapter, Flight, with a running time of approximately 24 minutes, Guettel references the myth of Icarus – the story of a young man striving to get out from under his famous father’s shadow and to shine like the sun. Members of its illustrious cast and team comprise featured singers Daniel Breaker, Julia Bullock, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Renée Fleming, Joshua Henry, Cheyenne Jackson, Capathia Jenkins, Mykal Kilgore, Norm Lewis, Jose Llana, Kelli O’Hara, Nicholas Phan, and Elizabeth Stanley; a cappella gospel music group Take 6; actor John Lithgow; pianists Anderson & Roe; directors Greg Anderson, Sammi Cannold, Trip Cullman, Lear deBessonet, Khristian Dentley, Doug Fitch, Anne Kauffman, and Ted Sperling; visual artists Yazmany Arboleda, Cloud Chatanda, Manik Choksi, Steven Kellogg, Lucy Mackinnon, and Danny Mefford; arrangers Greg Anderson and Mark Kibble; lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh; and orchestrators Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence.
On the evening prior to each virtual installment’s public debut, MasterVoices will host a series of private digital screenings with additional content. These live events will include a cocktail toast, a Q&A with Sperling and the renowned artists, and reception rooms for more in-depth conversation and socializing. For more information on how to become a project sponsor or host, or to purchase an individual ticket to these private screening opportunities (held on January 12, February 23, April 13, and May 25), go online.
Flight, the first chapter of Myths and Hymns, will be available for streaming beginning on Wednesday, January 13, at 6:30 pm, on the MasterVoices YouTube channel, and will remain available on demand through June 30, 2021. Public viewing is free and registration is not required. Tickets for the private screening, on January 12, begin at $150.