Agreed: Mirth, with thee I mean to live.
The chorus sings these words at the exultant finish of Mark Morris’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,” which transforms the Handel oratorio into a visual feast with the happiest dancing you could hope to see. And as you watch the dancers join hands and circle the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, the whole cast whirling in a spin-cycle of physical joy, living by that sentiment feels entirely possible.
Was it raining yesterday? Hardly noticed. “L’Allegro” was still turning in my mind.
It’s not just the jubilant finale and its marriage of movement to drums, brass and silvery voices that stays with you. Though that alone could conceivably give those who seek it a reason to go on living.
“L’Allegro” is bigger than that. It’s bigger than mere pleasure because Morris (like Handel, and like the Milton poems that the composer braids through the music) shows us pain, too, and a variety of effects through the dancers that remind us of the unjust, messy, random richness of humanity. Having traversed a range of emotional states with the music and the dancers — the happy (a rough translation of “l’allegro”), the contemplative (“il penseroso”) and the moderate — Morris shows us we can ultimately choose how we relate to the world. We can choose mirth. He did: In its original form, Handel’s opus ends with the voice of “il Moderato,” urging us to seek truth and reason. Morris’s rearrangement makes for a more powerful dance, for sure. But it is also a gift to the audience. It’s a call to action. Life needn’t claim us, even if we suffer as we’ve seen in the work’s darker moments. The choice of how we live it is ours.