Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein Mass

Air date: 05/15/2020

THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Premieres Leonard Bernstein Mass from the Ravinia Festival on Friday, May 15 on PBS

Features performances by Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Tony-winner Paulo Szot, conducted by Marin Alsop


Great Performances presents Leonard Bernstein Mass, premiering Friday, May 15 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app. Featuring 200 artists, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival’s 2019 production of Leonard Bernstein’s Massembraces elements of musical theater, folk and rock music with Latin text from the liturgy, as well as music and lyrics by Bernstein and additional text by “Wicked” composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. Tony Award-winning baritone Paulo Szot (“South Pacific”) stars as the Celebrant, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director and Bernstein protégé Marin Alsop conducts. The choral ensemble Vocality, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and the Highland Park High School Marching Band also perform. Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich called the production “simply quintessential, stylistically unbound, anything-goes Bernstein, presented on the grandest scale possible.”

Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein Mass begins with a brief overview of the work’s history as a commission by Jacqueline Onassis to open the Kennedy Center in 1971 and features comments from the director, conductor, Bernstein family members and more. As the performance begins, the Celebrant declares his faith but faces resistance from the Street Chorus who questions him and sends him on a journey of discovery. With metaphorical themes and letters written by cast members addressing social issues such as oppression, immigration and bullying, the musical is as relevant today as when it premiered in 1971.

Also this month, Great Performances: LA Phil 100 premieres on Friday, May 8 at 9:30 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app with the New York metro area premiere on Friday, May 8 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN. Great Performances at the Met: Wozzeck also premieres Sunday, May 3 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Additional classical music programming is available to stream on demand now at and the PBS Video app.

Notable Talent

  • Paulo Szot, stars as “The Celebrant,” Tony Award winner for his leading role in “South Pacific” and recently appeared as “U.S. Consul Sharpless” in Great Performances at the Met: Madama Butterfly
  • Marin Alsop, conductor, music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and music curator for the Ravinia Festival 2018-2019
  • Kevin Newbury, director, recently directed 2019’s Great Performances: Doubt from Minnesota Opera and 2017’s Great Performances: Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • David Horn, executive producer of Great Performances

Noteworthy Facts

  • The show contains with Latin text from the liturgy.
  • Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, “Mass” opened the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in September 1971. Leonard Bernstein was eager to honor the occasion with a new, large-scale work because he had always wanted to compose a service of one sort or another. 
  • In search of a collaborator, Bernstein asked Stephen Schwartz to work with him on the text, based on Schwartz’ work on “Godspell,” a hit musical based on the Gospel of St. Matthew.
  • While working on Mass, Bernstein consulted with a Catholic priest and anti-war activist who had been on the FBIs 10 Most-Wanted list before being apprehended and imprisoned. As a result, the FBI warned the White House that the show’s Latin text might contain coded anti-war messages and that Bernstein was mounting a plot to embarrass the United States government.” President Nixon was strongly advised not to attend and was absent at the premiere.
  • Leonard Bernstein’s long association with Great Performances began during his lifetime when Mass became the series’ first music program in 1974; in 2018, Bernstein’s extraordinary career was commemorated in Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration at Tanglewood.

  • Short TV Listing

    Enjoy Ravinia Festival’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s musical led by Tony winner Paulo Szot.

    Long TV Listing

    Enjoy Ravinia Festival’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s theater piece starring Tony Award-winning baritone Paulo Szot and featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra artistic director Marin Alsop conducts.

Series Overview

Throughout its more than 40-year history on PBS, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

Production Credits

Directed for television by Michael Beyer and produced by Bernhard Fleischer, Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein Mass is a production of Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images; Welz Kauffman and Samuel J. Paul are Executive Producers. Directed for the stage by Kevin Newbury, Marin Alsop conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Music and text by Leonard Bernstein with additional text and lyrics bv Stephen Schwartz. Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. John Walker and Richard R. Schilling are producers, Bill O’Donnell is series producer and David Horn is executive producer.


Major funding for Leonard Bernstein Mass was provided by The Ravinia Women’s Board. Major funding for Great Performances is provided by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, Irene Diamond Fund, Rosalind P. Walter, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Starr Foundation, Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Seton J. Melvin, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation.

Websites:,, @GPerfPBS #GreatPerformancesPBS

About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.


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Paulo Szot and members of Chicago Children’s Choir. Photo by Patrick Gipson/Ravinia Festival.

Paulo Szot and cast members of “Leonard Bernstein Mass.” Photo by Patrick Gipson/Ravinia Festival.

Paulo Szot and cast members of “Leonard Bernstein Mass.” Photo by Patrick Gipson/Ravinia Festival.

Paulo Szot and members of Chicago Children’s Choir. Photo by Patrick Gipson/Ravinia Festival.

Cast members of “Leonard Bernstein Mass.” Photo by Patrick Gipson/Ravinia Festival.

Paulo Szot and cast members of “Leonard Bernstein Mass.” Photo by Patrick Gipson/Ravinia Festival.