Gabriella Snyder
Gabriella Snyder

Prince of Peace - A Passion Play

Listen to some excerpts of "Prince of Peace" recorded live at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston:

 

Prelude: Let Us Sing!

Crucifixion and "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

Mourner's Kaddish and Alleluia!

 

Gabriella Snyder's three-act music drama, Prince of Peace - A Passion Play, based upon a play by award-winning poet Catherine de Vinck, retells the story of Christ's trials, crucifixion and resurrection, contrasting Christ's message of peace and reconciliation with the world's history of war and judgment.

Prince of Peace, written for vocal soloists, SATB chorus, narrator and orchestra, received its premier performance, with keyboard accompaniment, at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, Massachusetts in 2003.

Snyder's vocal lines are highly singable and supremely dramatic. Rhythmic and melodic motifs are woven throughout the drama, reiterating themes of Betrayal, the Law, Teacher, Creator, and Resurrection. The earthy opening chorus "Let us sing" evokes the drunken, lurching dance of a bacchanal with its strong rhythmic pulse pitted against constantly shifting meter. "The Law" -- with its pompous quasi-military march -- captures the oppressive quality of narrow-minded judgment. The "Mourner's Kaddish" combines solo Hebrew chant based on a traditional Jewish model with the chorus's sonorous accompanying phrases in English. The final "Alleluia" chorus is an exuberant celebration of life and resurrection.

Snyder's score features frequent modulations between tonal and modal centers. Dissonant, jagged passages are balanced with rich harmonious sections. She pays homage to the passion plays most frequently heard by contemporary listeners, such as those of  J.S. Bach, with her use of traditional forms like the fugue and passacaglia.

Prince of Peace amplifies in form and substance the miracle and passion plays of Medieval Europe, some of the earliest theatrical works of western music. Snyder first got the idea of composing a musical passion play in 1999. Looking for texts on the internet, she found Catherine de Vinck's theatrical and entirely poetical work -- "A Passion Play" -- synthesizing on all four gospel accounts of the passion. De Vinck's poetry, filled with earthy, real-life characters who have weaknesses, strengths, sufferings and spiritual strivings, attracted Snyder. After calling the award-winning poet at her home in New Jersey, the two began an ongoing, fruitful correspondence.  Snyder finished the work in the Spring of 2002.

In Prince of Peace we see Jesus Christ with a human face, with the victims of war, around the world, and throughout millennia. The passion play recounts the story of Christ's trials and triumph, his persecution and resurrection, and underscores his universal message of peace, forgiveness and love. Despite the challenging themes of war and the inhumanity in the world, the ultimate message of Prince of Peace is one of hope:

    The night is over,
    the winter is past.
    A deathless world emerges
    from the sea of transformation
    rising to the morning light.

 

One cannot miss the underlying antiwar theme of de Vinck's original passion play, written and published at the close of the Vietnam War. Her work is direct and unflinching as it characterizes war's inhumanity and brutality. Consider these passages from Act I, as de Vinck envisions Christ's prayers in the garden of Gethsemane before he is arrested:

    My God, they are all dying: in open fields,
    in ditches, in times of dislocation, of war
    the scattered corpses are feasts
    for crows and jackals.
    Did I fail?

    I am naked in a world of masks
    stripped in a world of wrappings
    unarmed in a world of flashing swords.

    My bones are counted one by one,
    sold for ivory, carved into necklaces
    for witch doctors and generals.
    I die with death without end.

    CHORUS:
    How long shall we wait? How long?
    Even in sleep we see the coming day,
    the bitter fruits ripening on the tree.
    Yet, we pull our coats over our heads,
    move deeper into our animal sleep.

 

All the lyrics of Prince of Peace are taken directly from de Vinck's play, published in 1975, but a few passages have been updated to call to mind more recent examples of mass terror. For example, consider the narrator's reading at the opening of Act III that precedes the Golgotha scene and a dramatic baritone solo, "My God, My God, Why have You abandoned Me?"

    Women of Jerusalem
    Do not weep over me:
    but if tears must fall, let them flow
    over yourselves, over your children.

    My sisters, in my dying I sing Kaddish with you.
    I am not a God of nowhere, but Myriam's son;
    My roots stand firm in your soil, Israel.
    But my death grows elsewhere,
    hangs in a thousand evil trees.

    Whatever the season of the year
    time is short, cut like grass
    before it reaches grain.
    The fruit ripens to be crushed
    The man who eats and drinks today
    choosing his morsels, rinsing his cup
    chokes tomorrow on the dry bone of death.
   
    Peace on Earth? They are coming
    across valleys and streams
    crossing bridges, burning villages
    marching in pride and blood;
    not armies of living men, but ghosts
    in iron chariots wielding iron spears
    hiding behind the power of cannon and gun.
    They are coming through the mountain passes
    with elephants and tanks.

    I die in all places of terror, at all hours
    - Rome, Constantinople, Auschwitz,
    Hiroshima, Baby-Yar, Mylai, Cambodia, Rwanda,
    Kosovo, New York.
    Names are tattooed on my flesh
    Numbers are carved in my wrists
    while the world writes its history
    with the iron alphabet of war.


Thomas Merton, Catholic monk and author of the best-selling book, Seven-Story Mountain, wrote in 1966 to Catherine de Vinck saying,  "You have a wonderful Blake-like response to the sacred world." Poet, Denise Levertov, writing in COMMONWEAL, remarked, "de Vinck's eloquent, beautiful, sensual poems convey an underlying hopefulness and often an ecstatic celebration of living." De Vinck's work offers a clarity of vision, an essential message of hope, a perspective that transcends time and space. Her message is amplified and intensified in Snyder's musical setting.

The cast at the premier of Prince of Peace: (back) R. Harrison Kelton (organist), Michael Driscoll (conductor), Thomas Melander (baritone), Lawrence Gall (baritone), Michael Harris (bass), (front) Gabriella Snyder (composer) and Denise Konicek (soprano).

News

I'll be singing in the upcoming Beethoven Society concert:

Opera Afternoon

Sunday, April 9, 2017 3:00pm

A program of duets and arias, including scenes from The Marriage of Figaro, The Pearl Fishers, La Traviata, The Old Maid and the Thief, Don Giovanni, Lakme, La Boheme, Susannah, The Magic Flue and Tannhauser.

 

Singers include Lawrence Gall, Brian Gilbertie, Cliff Liberman, Laura McHugh, Michael Pistorio, Victoria Schubert, Gabriella Snyder, Kristyn Taylor, Sarah Vincelett, Frank Walker and Tug Yourgrau, with Barbara Morash, Music Director and Accompanist

At Melrose Highlands Congregational Church

355 Franklin Street

Admission is free.

Reception follows.

Donations gratefully accepted.

Sponsored in part by the Melrose Cultural Council and the Melrose Messina Fund for the Arts. Concerts are usually on the 3rd Sunday of the month, September through June (no concert in January.) see www.facebook.com/BeethovenSociety

Wonderful accoustics at First Parish in Concord, MA, and spirited performances by all, made singing in Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato on April 10th a real treat. Afterwards, we had a lovely reception. Bob Garstide - impresario and mastermind - bought cases of wine and platters of shrimp, plus we 17 singers each brought lovely savory dishes and desserts. We presented Bob with a plaque and posed for a photo soon to adorn his studio piano. Kudos to all!

In April I performed a program of German Art Songs - Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Wagner, Strauss - for the Beethoven Society of Melrose, with Dr. Lorraine Lueft at the piano. 

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© Gabriella Snyder