Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Hemispheric Opera Premiere -- Part Two

I mean to apologize for leaving you all stranded yesterday. I meant to get back and write the rest of the review earlier. Really. But it's just as well, as my review of the pre-opera appetizer ended up rather longer than I expected. So this is part two of the review. Skip it if you're not interested.

I haven't mentioned the nicest thing, which is that we were given copies of all the lyrics and their translations. If you can't have surtitles or subtitles, the next best thing is a script. I read ahead so as not to be too distracted during the live performance, but found myself using the script anyway. This did cause me a bit of a sore neck, though, as I kept ducking my head to catch glimpses of the script on my lap so as to follow along. The lady next to me did drop her script at one point, but fortunately nobody was singing at the time.

The first item on the program was a short piece called "Vanitas Vanitatum", by one of Charpentier's teachers, Jacomo Carissimi (1605-1674).
He was a priest who worked in Rome, and his music was so popular that the Pope forbade any of his manuscripts be removed. The first part of the piece is from Ecclesiastes -- a list of all the things the writer did and found were done in vain. Each of the five singers took their turn singing a stanza; each stanza ended with the refrain, "Vanitas vanitatum, omnia, omnia vanitas!" which was then repeated by the chorus. The big verse was the one about getting male and female singers, of course, and the music went into all kinds of elaborations and repetitions and such.

Then things moved into a different musical sound in the second bit. There was a list (not from Ecclesiastes, I think) of all the worldly goodies that were no good, which alternated between zipping along
at high speed and dwelling on things slooooowly. This was very effective, but also very clearly fun for the singers. Some internal rhyming occurred. ("inanes labores, fugaces honores, mendaces favores" -- nice!). which was some kind of Then there was an "ubi sunt" section which seemed to be a secular Latin
text. I liked this bit a lot, so I'm going to quote it all from the script they gave us. (I have to confess a sad, sad weakness for "where are they now?" as a poetic device. I really love "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?" But somebody's using that blog title already....)

Ubi sunt praeclares reges
qui dederunt orbi leges,
ubi gentium ductores,
civitatum conditores?
Pulvis sunt et cineres.

Where are the noble kings that gave laws to the world?
Where the leaders of people, the founders of cities?
Dust they are and ashes.

Ubi septem sapientes,
et scientias adolentes,
ubi retores discordes,
ubi artifices experti?
Pulvis sunt et cineres.

Ubi fortes sunt gigantes,
tanto robore praestantes,
ubi invicti bellatores,
barbarorum domitores?
Pulvis sunt et cineres.

Ubi heroum inclita proles,
ubi vastae urbium moles,
ubi Athenae, ubi Carthago,
veterisque Thebae imago?
Solum nomen superset.

Ubi dictatorum gloriae,
ubi consolum victoriae,
ubi laureae triumphales,
ubi decus immortale
Romanorum honorium?
Solum nomen superset.

Heu, heu nos miseros.

The last bit was another rhyming Latin thing on how we are all leaves in the wind. It was also very nice. I think maybe this is when the speed up/slow down thing got used really heavily. (The leaves were blowing fast, then drifting, then blowing fast again.)

The piece in general was an interesting blend of depression and verve, sorta like The Anatomy of Melancholy as a song. But I find it hard to imagine that the composer ever spent much time being depressed. He was just enjoying himself too much for that. I would like to hear this piece again, and I think a lot of groups would enjoy doing it. (It didn't seem too difficult in range, etc., but that may have been the skill of the singers and musicians, of course.)

Here's a review of a Carissimi CD which includes a lot of good information. This recording seems to include a fuller version of what we heard (which was apparently just one part of a whole oratorio. What we heard was the section from "Dixi in corde meo" to "Omnia vanitas". You can also hear this with other Roman pieces about vanitas on Tragicomedia's album Vanitas Vanitatum, as reviewed here. I haven't heard any of these recordings myself.


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