Michael Hume, appearing in the central role of the celebrant in Leonard Bernstein's Mass last night at the Kennedy Center, inspired a performance that forcefully projected the work's drama of celebration and sacrifice. Gently, yet surely, filling the stage with his radiant presence, Hume offered a finely paced interpretation that gathered strength, both vocally and dramatically, as it moved along.

Aided by an engaging smile and a sound of appealing sweetness, especially in the upper range, Hume's celebrant in the opening section of Mass seemed all wonder and light, the essence of playful innocence. Gradually, his tone darkened and his manner deepened to convey first the confusion and then the anguish of the celebrant, reaching a powerful climax in the final extended solo that marks the destruction of the celebrant. Though his voice is not large, Hume used it with an intelligence and refinement that made the wide expressive demands of the part easily accessible to him. His acting, which at first seemed overly restrained, unfolded with matching delicacy and insight.

It was also a pleasure to note that, apart from a few minor slips, the erratic behavior of the sound system seems to have been corrected. The spirited presentations of the cast and orchestra, under conductor John Mauceri's superb direction, now take place with electronic aid rather than electronic interference. Hume, alternating in the role of the celebrant with Joseph Kolinski, will be singing the weekend matinees and Thursday night performances of Mass.