La Capella Reial de Catalunya;
The Misteri d'Elx (Mystery Play of Elche) is a religious drama performed annually in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche (or Elx in the local dialect) since medieval times. The play reenacts the Assumption of Mary in a two-act musical production, entirely sung, that takes place over two successive days in August. The Mystery Play is a major European tourist attraction, and UNESCO in 2001 named it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With typical boldness, Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya plunge into a slice of the musical past that is rewarding yet raises complex issues in performance. Here, however, the group is not resurrecting a half-buried tradition but rather dealing with one that is living. The primary female parts of Mary and the Angel in the drama are sung gorgeously by Montserrat Figueras and Arianna Savall; Jordi Savall argues convincingly in his notes that the traditional practice of having boy sopranos sing these roles is an unfortunate holdover from the era of Catholic gender restrictions. These two singers, especially, deserve credit for rising to the challenge of fusing a piece of music created over many centuries into a unified whole. Their mystical, ecstatic musical utterances are wholly distinctive. It's worth bearing in mind, however, that this is not an "authentic" performance; you can go to Elche for that. The notes characterize the play's language as Catalan, which some in Valencia would dispute, and this disc offers not an enactment of the traditional Mystery Play, based on its usual combination of oral tradition and old written documents, but rather an investigative reworking (Savall calls it an homage). It's as if Savall decided to perform music of the Mummers' parades in Philadelphia -- it would be compelling, but you'd also want to find out what folks in Philadelphia thought about it.
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