“It’s good news when you reject things as they are, when you lay down the world as it is and you take on the responsibility of shaping your own way, that’s good news… and they don’t say it’s good times, they say good news. It’s hard times when you decide to pick up your own cross. You gon’ catch hell if you don’t do it the way they say do it.” — Bernice Johnson Reagon
“To be staged or not
To be felt not understood
Let tones from others inspire your own
Let the music flow out of you as if you were a kid.” — Claude Vivier
IN Series is transitioning from holding the works of Mozart as the center of its being to holding that space for, as Artistic Director Timothy Nelson has noted, “somethings new and somethings needed.” It’s always a good idea to have some sort of ritual to mark major shifts in our lives. IN Series’ Requiem, now playing at various locations in DC (through November 13) and in Baltimore (November 18 to 20), fulfills that role superbly. And I am pleased to report that Requiem is flat-out glorious.
The singing is exhilarating, both individually and as combined voices. The ensemble forcefully fills the space with a sound that penetrates the audience’s very being with the hopeful and confident sound of creating music. It is a luxury and a privilege to experience voices this close. If you get a chance to catch this short run, go.
Even though Mozart is the composer with the largest name recognition, the production is not called Mozart’s Requiem: merely Requiem. And it is subtitled with the names of its three composers: Mozart, Vivier, and Boulanger.
Timothy Nelson takes works by these three different composers and constructs from them a contemporary Requiem. This new Requiem begins with Vivier’s Jesus Ebarme Dich (Have Mercy on Me Jesus). It then alternates between movements from Mozart’s unfinished Requiem and Vivier’s completed Love Songs, coming to a climax with Vivier’s unfinished Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Believe in the Immortality of the Soul?) then concluding with Lili Boulanger’s Pie Jesu (Pious Jesus).
The word requiem means rest, as in “rest in peace.” It is a ritual that comes out of the Catholic Mass in which the loss of another is acknowledged. Requiems are usually performed statically and listened to passively. But this one is staged. Who, then, or what is this Requiem being performed for? In 2022, who or what has died or is dying that needs to be laid to rest?
The collapse of the workforce during the COVID pandemic and the willingness of a critical mass of this country to embrace Trump or at least his ideas has led to many statements of confusion, grief, and despair among Americans. By setting Requiem in a subway train, director Nelson allows us to look at that grief and despair across a large cross-section of “the people” as they cross paths with one another in their day-to-day lives.
I attended Requiem in the First Congregational UCC, where it was staged in the center of the room, with the audience seated on four sides of a subway car that is enclosed in a cube-shaped scaffold of bars.
The first performer begins singing from a seated position in the audience. After a moment she stands and in an unhurried and casual way begins walking toward the center of the stage. As she approaches the stage other singers also begin to sing from their positions in the audience and to move toward the stage. Here, I must applaud the costume designer, Donna Breslin, whose clothing not only made the singers indistinguishable from anyone you might see on public transportation but made them inseparable from the audience. Because of this, more than in any other production I have ever seen, I felt like these people were me and their experiences were mine.
This Requiem takes us through much of the existential crisis we have been experiencing over the last two years. At the conclusion of Boulanger’s Pie Jesu, the singers end their subway ride and return to the audience and Requiem returns us to ourselves: shaken but reassured.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes without intermission.
COVID Safety: Masks are required at all IN Series performances, regardless of vaccination status. Masks must cover the entire nose and mouth and must be kept on for the duration of the entire performance, except when eating or drinking in designated areas. See IN Series’ complete COVID Policies and Procedures here.
Music by Mozart, Vivier, Boulanger
Imagined and directed by Timothy Nelson
Music direction by Emily Baltzer
Musical arrangement by Dave Chavez
Design by Lawrence Molten III, Abigail Hoke-Brady, and Donna Breslin
FEATURING: Teresa Ferrara, Noelle McMurty, Aryssa Leigh Burrs, Gayssie Lugo, Oliver Mercer, Jarrod Lee, Daniel J. Smith, and choral ensemble.