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'Mass' for JFK deeply moving

There comes a point in any journey of faith -- in religion, government, humanity -- that one questions the very worth of the concept.

This journey, perhaps the world's oldest, takes gorgeously rendered musical form in Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy to commemorate her husband's death and first performed in 1971. On Friday night, the ambitious work was given a powerful and deeply moving production by Buffalo's Opera Sacra in St. Joseph University Church.

Floating somewhere in that ephemeral space between classical religious devotion and musical theater, "Mass" achieves a deeply rewarding synthesis of those forms for those willing to give themselves over to its difficult and often dissonant soundscape.

Taking the form of a traditional Catholic Mass, the piece begins with pleasant and lofty pre-Mass devotions and winds its way through the various rituals of the Catholic faith. As the Mass proceeds, a chorus of 16 street singers expresses a growing list of doubts about religion's failure to address issues like war, hypocrisy and tyrannical power. The deeper into the Mass we get, the more those doubts affect the score, as the main character of the Celebrant -- played ably by Brendan Powers -- begins to question his own faith.

"Mass" was written at a time of great fear and division over the war in Vietnam, and like seemingly every piece of dramatic work from that period being revived today, comparisons draw themselves all too well here.

Such a production requires a finely tuned group of dancers, singers and musicians to carry off and in this production, directed by Brother Augustine Towey of Niagara University, the elements have aligned almost perfectly. In the lead role, Powers is precisely what his surname and reputation suggest.



"Mass: A Theatrical Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers"

Presented by Opera Sacra on Friday night in St. Joseph University Church, 3269 Main St.

Additional performances at 8 tonight and 4 p.m. Sunday.

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