(1642 - 1692)
Il diluvio universale - oratorio (1682)
Magali Arnault (Acqua), Mariana Flores (Rad), Caroline Weynants
(Natura humana) (soprano), Evelyn Ramirez Munoz (Giustizia Divina)
(contralto), Fabián Schofrin (Morte) (alto), Fernando Guimarães
(Noè), Thibaut Lenaerts (Foco) (tenor), Matteo Bellotto (Dio),
Benoît Giaux (Terra) (bass)
Choeur de Chambre de Namur
Cappella Mediterranea/Leonardo García-Alarcón
rec. 6-10 September 2010, Espace culturel C.J. Bonnet, Jujurieux,
Texts and translations included
AMBRONAY AMY026 [64:35]
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) is considered the founder of the
oratorio genre. Many pieces of this kind were written in the
second half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th
century. But the genre quickly moved away from Carissimi's model.
His subjects were always biblical, close to the biblical narrative,
and mostly on a Latin text. Later examples often had an Italian
text, and included dialogues of a non-biblical nature. As time
progressed a considerable number were written on non-biblical
subjects, like the life of saints. The narrator (historicus)
- a key figure in Carissimi’s oratorios - disappeared.
The oratorio also became increasingly operatic, with more virtuosic
arias, and a stronger division between recitative and aria.
The role of instruments increased, mostly for dramatic reasons.
It comes as no surprise then that in the early 18th century
oratorios often featured opera singers.
Il diluvio universale by Michelangelo Falvetti is an
interesting specimen of an oratorio which is halfway through
this development. The libretto is in Italian and there is no
narrator. Although the story is still biblical there are additional
(allegorical) characters and non-biblical dialogues. As a result
it is considerably longer than Carissimi's oratorios. Whereas
the latter's concentrate on narration, Falvetti includes meditative
passages. Musically there is still no clear difference between
these and the narrative episodes. The arias take different forms,
but we are still far away from the da capo aria which
would appear in oratorios around the turn of the century.
Little is known about Michelangelo Falvetti. He has no entry
in New Grove. He was born in Palermo and was appointed
maestro di cappella of the cathedral in Messina in 1682.
In that year this oratorio was also first performed. The libretto
was written by Vincenzo Giattini, a famous writer in Palermo
at the time. The score has been preserved in manuscript, and
doesn't give any information about the characters or the instruments
needed. The printed libretto is held in a library in Venice
and allows the identification of the characters and which part
they are to sing. The instrumental scoring can be established
from the list of musicians at Messina Cathedral during the early
1680s. They included four violins, four violas, an archlute,
a sackbut and four organists. The score has two treble parts,
an alto and a tenor part and a bass part. The alto and tenor
clef are taken by two viole da gamba. A lirone is added to the
ensemble as are two cornetts which in some episodes are used
as alternatives to the violins.
The story is about the Flood as reported in Genesis (Ch 6-8).
God is weary of the wickedness of man and decides to destroy
him. He saves the life of Noah, his wife and children. With
a number of animals they enter the Ark. Then it starts to rain,
the water-level rises and all people and animals outside of
the Ark are engulfed. This is perfect stuff for a dramatic oratorio,
and that is exactly what Il diluvio universale is. It
is divided into four sections. The first is "In heaven": we
hear a sinfonia, and suddenly Divine Justice (Giustizia Divina)
enters, announcing the punishment of the world. The Elements
are called, and Water (Acqua) is chosen to execute the sentence.
The section ends with a highly dramatic chorus: "Let baleful
clouds declare war. Let rains, floods, hailstones and storms
drench the earth."
Next follows "On earth". We meet Noah and his wife - here called
Rad - in which they express their trust that the Ark will save
them. In a dialogue between God and Noah the latter questions
the justice of the decision to destroy mankind. God explains
to him why he has taken this decision. Then follows "The Flood":
it begins with a 'storm symphony' (sinfonia di tempeste)
with a chorus in which the voices are split into two groups.
They represent mankind trying to flee: "Let us flee, we are
going to die". Then Death enters: his rise from "the depths
of Erebus" is effectively depicted by a rising scale. It is
even more effective here because Fabián Schofrin begins
in his chest register and then enters his falsetto range. Human
Nature (Natura humana) asks for mercy, acknowledging his foolishness,
but to no avail. Death ends this section: "I have conquered
a whole world".
The fourth and last section is "In Noah's Ark". A chorus announces
the disappearance of the clouds and the return of light. Noah
sings: "Gentle Lord, change thy bow of anger into a rainbow
of peace". The oratorio ends with a chorus, urging mankind to
"pluck the fruits of life from the fair branches of peace".
It is great that this dramatic and enthralling oratorio has
been discovered. It was given to Leonardo García-Alarcón
in Sicily and he was immediately interested. He decided to perform
it during the Ambronay Festival. Like many productions of this
festival it was then recorded in the studio. On balance the
performance is very good. Evelyn Ramirez Munoz has a dark and
strong voice, which is perfectly suited for the role of Divine
Justice, and her entrance at the start has a great dramatic
effect. It is just a shame she uses a bit too much vibrato now
and then. Fernando Guimarães and Mariana Flores make
a perfect couple as Noah and Rad, singing beautifully in their
duets. Matteo Bellotto takes the role of God; I could imagine
a little stronger voice, but he performs his role very well.
I already referred to Fabián Schofrin as Death. Apart
from the dramatically effective entrance I am not that impressed
by his singing. In fact, I wonder whether he would do better
as a tenor than as an alto. The role's tessitura is rather low,
and it could well be that it was meant to be sung by a high
tenor rather than a falsettist. Caroline Weynants gives a fine
account of the part of Human Nature. The small roles of the
Elements are sung by members of the choir.
García-Alarcón has taken some liberties in regard
to the realisation of the score. The use of two cornetts in
some episodes is questionable from a historical point of view:
at the end of the 17th century the cornett had largely lost
its importance and was only seldom used. It doesn't surprise
that Messina Cathedral apparently didn't have any cornettists.
Most problematic is the use of percussion. Falvetti didn't ask
for it, and therefore it is anybody's guess why the Iranian
percussionist Keyvan Chemirani should play instruments like
zarb, oud and darf here. He does so in some dramatic
episodes, but there the music is rhythmically vivid enough as
it is. It doesn't do the composer any favours. After all, one
of the challenges of any composer was to create a strong dynamic
pulse with little means, and Falvetti does so brilliantly. There
is no need for 'improvement' here. Even more curious is the
deployment of percussion in meditative passages. The duet of
Noah and Rad, 'Dolce sposo Noè', is introduced by a solo
of the percussion which is at odds with its lyrical character.
There is nothing wrong with creativity on the part of the interpreters,
but there are limits, and these have been crossed here. I also
wonder what Falvetti has written down in the aria of Human nature,
'La morte ingoio'. The lirone seems to take quite some liberties
here, which not always seem in line with the idiom of the time.
I am not quite sure whether the choruses should be performed
by a choir of twenty singers. In Carissimi's oratorios - and
in many later oratorios as well - the choruses were mostly sung
by the soloists. Here all choruses are for five voices; in two
cases six voices are needed. One of the choruses is split, and
that means that ten singers should suffice. Is it a coincidence
that there are nine characters in the oratorio? That could well
be an indication that they should sing the choruses. Very odd
is the duet towards the end, 'Ecco l'iride paciera', which is
first sung by two sopranos and then by the sopranos and tenors
of the choir.
Various decisions regarding the score are debatable. Whereas
most of them may be at least defensible, the use of percussion
is definitely not. On the basis of the importance of this recording,
the quality of the music and the general level of the performance
I recommend this disc. It is the addition of percussion - which
I consider a vulgarisation of the score - which dissuades me
from labelling this disc "recording of the month".
Johan van Veen