The Israeli Opera presents a new ‘Nabucco’.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
The early-music Phoenix Ensemble, directed by Myrna Herzog, performs Nabucco by newly discovered Italian composer Michelangelo Falvetti (1642-92). This production premiered with great success at the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival during Succot. Of Falvetti’s many works, which include masses, vespers, psalms, and motets, only two big oratorios have survived: Il Diluvio Universale (premiered by Phoenix a year ago) and Il Nabucco.
“Little is known about Michelangelo Falvetti,” says Herzog. “Born in Calabria, he went to work in Sicily, where he was considered a great virtuoso and occupied the prestigious post of chapel master in the cathedrals of Palermo and Messina successively.”
Herzog says that the two surviving pieces are in many ways relevant to the place in which they were composed.
“Il Deluvio Universalele is Italian for ‘The Great Flood’ from which Messina suffered until the 19th or even 20th century, so it is not by chance that most of Falvetti’s output has not survived,” she says.
She goes on to explain that the librettos for Falvetti’s works were written by Vincenzo Giattini, the most popular librettist of the time. He wrote the text of Nabucco, based on the Book of Daniel.
“The subject of Nabucco seems to have been carefully chosen: the defeat of arrogance and idolatry, expressed in the biblical story of three Jewish youths condemned by King Nebuchadnezzar to be thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship the king’s golden statue,” says Herzog.
“It’s important to know that Messina, due to its wealth, purchased its freedom from the Spanish, who ruled the region. They had their own senate and so forth. Yet they decided to revolt against the Spanish, since the taxes they paid to them were too high, and there were other restrictions, which they really did not like. The French, who joined them for a while, soon abandoned the Italians, and the latter were defeated by the rulers. To make the defeat more humiliating, they razed the building of the senate and made a statue of the king of Spain from the bell taken from the cathedral. The citizens of Messina were furious, and Falvetti among them. To make matters worse, the statue was situated right in front of the cathedral, Falvetti’s place of work,” she says.
That also explains why the text and, above all, the music assigned by Falvetti to the three youths is not only defiant but mocking. And also why Falvetti, in spite of being a Catholic priest, discarded Giattini’s last verse about the immortality of Christ and ended Nabucco with the previous verse in a clear message: “Where innocence fights, it topples the idols and overthrows the arrogant ones.”
Herzog stresses that Phoenix is the first ensemble to perform Falvetti’s masterpiece exactly as it was written by the composer.
“There is a version recorded by a French ensemble, and I have to admit that it is very beautifully performed.
But many things were omitted, changed or even added to the score.
While we just try to present what Falvetti wrote in the best way possible. And his music absolutely deserves it. The melodies are sweeping, and Falvetti was blessed with a great sense of harmony, of proportion. The piece includes 15 movements, and it is so well thought through, built with a perfect balance between the elements as well as within them,” she says.
Thanks to the support of the Italian institutes of Haifa and Tel Aviv, as well as Mifal Hapais, special guest Fabrizio Longo, an Italian researcher and musician who rediscovered Falvetti, will join Phoenix on his Baroque viola.Falvetti’s ‘Nabucco’ will be performed on December 13 at 8:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Ra’anana; December 15 at 8:30 p.m. at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv; and December 17 at 11 a.m. at Mar Elias Church in Haifa.