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The Sword of Judith

 | 
Kevin R. Brine
, 
Elena Ciletti
, 
Henrike Lähnemann

Music and Drama

21. Judith in Baroque Oratorio

David Marsh

Texte intégral

  • 1 See Lucrezia Tornabuoni de’ Medici, Sacred Narratives, trans. Jane Tylus (Chicago, IL: University (...)
  • 2 See Giorgio Mangini, ”’Betulia liberata’ e ’La morte d’Oloferne’: Momenti di drammaturgia musicale (...)

1From the Quattrocento onward, the story of Judith often inspired Italian writers and artists to produce masterpieces celebrating female heroism. Around 1470, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the mother of Lorenzo de’ Medici, wrote a Storia di Giuditta in ottava rima.1 A century later, Federico Della Valle established his primacy in Italian Baroque theater with the play Iudit (ca. 1590), whose protagonist he describes as a foreshadowing (ombra) of the Virgin Mary. The biblical heroine was popular with painters from Giorgione onwards, and the beheading of Holofernes became a Grand Guignol staple of Baroque paintings. With the emergence of oratorio around 1600, the dramatic potential of the biblical book was realized in a succession of libretti set by distinguished composers.2 The present essay examines some sixty years of libretti written on the theme between 1675 and 1734, and set to music as late as 1771, thus roughly spanning a century. Let us begin with a review of the book of Judith and with its dramatization by Federico Della Valle.

The Biblical Account

  • 3 Lino Bianchi, Carissimi, Stradella, Scarlatti e l’oratorio musicale (Rome: Edizioni De Santis, 196 (...)
  • 4 Judith’s concern for her chaste reputation is evident from her words in showing Holofernes’s head (...)

2The Book of Judith contains a fascinating mixture of public and private elements. Even the name Judith appears symbolic: it is the feminine form of Judah, and the widow thus represents both individual heroism and collective survival. The two narrative foci of the story are the hill town of Bethulia and the armed camp of its Assyrian besiegers. Within these public spaces, Judith seeks out private places that fulfill her mission as faithful widow and faithful worshiper. In Bethulia, she prepares for her undertaking by withdrawing to her place of prayer. (As the musicologist Lino Bianchi has pointed out, the wording of a detail in the Vulgate story of Judith anticipates the musical oratorio of the Baroque. Jerome’s account describes how the widow often repaired to a special place reserved for prayer – apparently a sort of tent or tabernacle – but when Jerome translated the Hebrew text, he introduced the Latin noun oratorium to describe her little chamber or cubiculum.3) Later, in the camp of Holofernes, she is admitted into the enemy’s tent, a sort of pagan inner sanctum, in which she not only defends her own chastity, but safeguards the welfare of her entire people.4

3The complementarity of Judith’s public and private spaces is reflected in the performance of Baroque oratorio. In order to serve her people, Judith must withdraw to her oratorium; and in order to save them, she must enter the tent of Holofernes. Both worlds are made public in Baroque oratorio, which is likewise characterized by performances that are public concerts or private chamber recitals. In either case, the private world of the heroine is made immediate to a public audience. And when the people of Bethulia rejoice at their deliverance in the final chorus, the faithful spectators of a Judith oratorio presumably rejoice with them.

Federico Della Valle

  • 5 Federico Della Valle, Iudit (1627), ed. Andrea Gareffi (Rome: Bulzoni, 1978) idem, Opere, ed. Mari (...)
  • 6 See Jean-Michel Gardair, ”Giuditta e i suoi doppi,” in M. Chiabò and F. Doglio (eds.), I Gesuiti e (...)
  • 7 For nocturnal imagery, see Iudit I. prol. 37–38: ”però notturna con la serva sola / move a pregar” (...)
  • 8 For Olofernes’s desire (voglia), see the insistent repetitions in II.1.97,107,112,121,136, and 190 (...)

4The drama Iudit of Federico Della Valle elaborates the biblical tale according to Baroque poetic sensibilities.5 Cast in the canonical five acts, the drama features a dozen speaking characters and a chorus of Assyrians whose function recalls that of ancient Greek tragedy. The principal stylistic model is Tasso, whose meter in the pastoral play Aminta (combined settenari and endecasillabi: verses of seven and eleven syllables) was to dominate libretti well into the Settecento. And Tasso’s predilection for female warriors and nocturnal settings have clearly influenced Della Valle.6 The play opens with the night-time appearance of Judith and her servant Abra making their way to the Assyrian camp, and ends with the nighttime laments in that camp of the eunuch Vagao and general Arismaspe. Delighting in symmetrical antithesis, Della Valle exploits the contrast between day and night – a counter-part to the chiaroscuro depictions of Baroque artists.7 And the center of his drama hinges on a similar polarity that contrasts male desire and female beauty.8 (Della Valle also wrote the play Ester, in which the heroine incarnates public politics, rather than private fortitude.)

Marc-Antoine Charpentier

  • 9 For the composer’s autograph score (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Rés. Vm1 259), see Marc-Antoine (...)

5In his Latin Judith sive Bethulia Liberata of 1675, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who had studied in Rome with Carissimi, began a series of oratorios about femmes fortes, apparently written for Madame de Guise; his work dramatized a condensed version of the Vulgate account, alternating between historicus recitative and solo or choral song.9 This barebones oratorio retains the biblical structure of the narrative in Judith 7–13, abridging the story to roughly a third its length in the Vulgate. The opening lines set the scene in summary fashion. The Chorus paraphrases Judith 7:1 – ”Stabat Holofernes per montes urbis Bethulia ut eam oppugnaret, et accesserunt ad eum duces exercitus eius et illi dixerunt” (Holofernes camped in the mountains around Bethulia in order to take the city, and the generals of his army came to him and spoke); and a Trio sings the words of Judith 7:7 – ”Filii Israel non in lanceis nec in sagittis confidunt, sed montes defendunt illos et muniunt illos colles” (The sons of Israel do not rely on spears or arrows; rather, the mountains defend them and the hills protect them).

  • 10 The final chorus celebrates Judith in words that evoke the Virgin Mary: ”Et tu benedicta es mulier (...)

6There follow a series of recitatives, arias, and choruses that dramatize the story. After the opening scene of Holofernes and his Assyrian troops, Ozias and the people of Bethulia lament their sins. Judith now takes center stage, announcing her plan, praying in sackcloth, and then changing into seductive finery. The drama of the oratorio lies in the exchanges between Judith and both sides of the conflict – the people of Bethulia, the Assyrian scouts who first meet her, and the daunting Holofernes – and changes of scene are underscored by instrumental interludes or sinfonie. Charpentier’s librettist follows the Vulgate in making Judith a ”handmaid of the Lord,” but minimizes the appeal of her physical beauty.10

7The encounter between Judith and Holofernes marks the high point of the drama. Received by the Assyrian general, Judith predicts the fall of Bethulia, thus establishing a pretext for staying in the enemy camp. On the fourth day, when Holofernes is overpowered by wine, she prays to God for assistance in slaying him. Then she returns to Bethulia, where she sings, ”Aperite portas, quoniam nobiscum est Deus, fecit enim virtutem in Israel” (Open the gates, for God is with us and has shown his power in Israel) – a moment followed by a sinfonia. Showing the head of Holofernes, she leads the people of Bethulia in a hymn of praise to the Lord, who has delivered them.

Alessandro Scarlatti

  • 11 See Norbert Dubowy, ”Le due’Giuditte’ di Alessandro Scarlattti: due diverse concezioni dell’orator (...)

8In the next generation, the libretti of Italian musical oratorios focused on the most striking dramatic elements of the biblical narrative. At the end of the seventeenth century, Alessandro Scarlatti set texts written by members of the Ottoboni family, who were relatives of Pope Alexander VIII (1689–1691). The libretto of the five-part ”Naples” Giuditta (SSATB; 1694) was written by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740); that of the three-part ”Cambridge” Giuditta (SAT; 1697) by his father, Antonio Ottoboni.11

9The Naples Giuditta situates Judith as the dramatic link between Bethulia (Ozias and an anonymous Sacerdote) and the Assyrian camp (Oloferne and a Capitano who recalls Della Valle’s character), offering vivid contrasts between scenes of martial spirit and intimate seduction. In the interest of variety, Pietro Ottoboni alternates scenes between Bethulia and Holofernes’s camp.

10Prima Parte

11Betulia: Giuditta, Ozia, Sacerdote

12Campo: sinfonia bellica, Oloferne, Capitano (Achiorre)

13Seconda Parte

14Campo: Giuditta, Oloferne, ancella (muta)

15Betulia: Sacerdote, Ozia, Capitano (=Achiorre)

16Campo: Oloferne, Giuditta, ancella (muta)

17Betulia: Sacerdote, Ozia, Capitano (=Achiorre), Giuditta, ancella (muta)

  • 12 A notable parallel in biblical oratorio may be seen in Herod’s ”Tuonerà tra mille turbini” in Ales (...)

18This setting exploits many of the devices of Baroque musical theater. The scene in Holofernes’s camp is introduced by a sinfonia bellica, which frames Holofernes’s ”rage aria” – ”Lampi e tuoni ho nel sembiante” (I have lightning and thunder in my face) – which is soon followed by the Captain’s similarly furious ”Vincerai se ‘l ciel vorrà” (You shall conquer if heaven wills it).12 By contrast, Judith’s first aria in the enemy camp insists (like Della Valle’s play) on her beauty: ”Se di gigli e se di rose porto / il volto e il seno adorno, / bramo ancora più vezzose / le bellezze in sì gran giorno” (Though my face and breast are graced by lilies and roses, I desire more charming beauties on such a great day).

19By contrast, the Cambridge Giuditta reduces the drama to the essential trio of Judith, her maid (Nutrice), and Holofernes, as in the Baroque depictions of Caravaggio and Gentileschi; and it offers a chiastic structure that is closer to the biblical account:

20Parte prima

21Betulia: Giuditta, Nutrice

22Campo: Giuditta, Nutrice, Oloferne

23Parte seconda

24Campo: Giuditta, Nutrice, Oloferne

25Betulia: Giuditta, Nutrice

  • 13 Cf. Franca Angelini, ”Variazioni su Giuditta,” in Lucia Strappini (ed.), I luoghi dell’immaginario (...)
  • 14 Oloferne, ”Togliti da quest’occhi / Per non ferirmi il cor, bellezza infida” (Remove yourself from (...)
  • 15 Norbert Dubowy, ”Le due’Giuditte,’” p. 268.

26Antonio Ottoboni thus gives the drama a feminist slant, emphasizing the collaboration between Judith and her maid – a sort of anticipation of the comic partnership of Don Giovanni and Leporello.13 In the tradition of Della Valle, Holofernes’s arias emphasize the overpowering beauty of Judith.14 Before the ”moment of truth,” Holofernes and Judith sing a duet – ”Tu m’uccidi e non m’accogli” (You slay me and do not embrace me) – which is sanctioned more by operatic convention than by biblical precedent. The actual slaying is portrayed as vividly as the sung medium allows. The Nurse (the ”Abra” of scripture) sings an ominous lullaby about Samson as Holofernes falls into a drunken slumber.15 Although he briefly rouses himself, Judith strikes a first blow, and then a second – both described in her recitative with that of the Nurse. In this scene, the emphasis on sleep reinforces the nocturnal setting; but as Judith and her attendant return to Bethulia, they sing a duet hailing daybreak, ”Spunta l’alba più bella” (The fairest dawn is breaking). After a recitative account of her exploits, Judith exhorts her people either to obey God or (like Holofernes) to suffer the consequences.

Antonio Vivaldi

  • 16 ”Praesens est bellum, saeve minantur et hostes; / Adria Juditha est, et socia Abra Fides. / Bethul (...)
  • 17 Smithers, History of the Oratorio, 1, 348–55.

27A decidedly political interpretation of the Judith story is furnished by Antonio Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie (Judith triumphant in the defeat of Holofernes’s barbarity; 1716, SAAAA), set to a rhymed Latin text by Giacomo Cassetti and prefaced by Latin elegiacs that explain the poem’s allegory.16 As the subtitle devicta Holofernis barbarie (the defeat of Holofernes’s barbarity) indicates, the ”Eastern” threat of the Assyrian army offers a thin allegorical veil for the menace of the contemporary Ottoman Empire.17 The work was performed at the Ospedale della Pietà, the girls’ orphanage where Vivaldi was employed; and the exclusive use of female voices – including Holofernes, who is sung by a mezzo-soprano – might to a modern ear seem to undermine the martial themes of the work. But we must remember that operatic conventions of the day often assigned heroic roles such as Julius Caesar to the powerful treble voices of castrati.

28The entire oratorio moves from the opening chorus of Assyrian soldiers – ”Arma, caedes, vindictae, furores” (Arms, slaughter, vengeance, fury) – to the closing chorus of Bethulians hailing Judith as their savior and (incongruously) celebrating the future peace of the Adriatic, ”Adria vivat et regnet in pace” (Let the Adriatic live and reign in peace):

29Pars prior

30Sinfonia

  • In castris: Chorus, Holofernes, Vagaus
  • Ad castra: Juditha, Abra; Chorus, Vagaus
  • In castris: Holofernes, Juditha, Abra
  • Bethulia: Chorus

31Pars altera

  • Bethulia: Ozias
  • In castris: Holofernes et Juditha; Chorus; Vagaus, Abra
  • Juditha, Abra; Vagaus
  • Bethulia: Ozias; Chorus
  • 18 Cf. Jdt 10:4: ”Cui etiam Dominus contulit splendorem: quoniam omnis ista compositio non ex libidin (...)
  • 19 Vivaldi had already written a swallow aria, ”Se garrisce la rondinella” (If the swallow chirps), i (...)

32Despite the martial subtext, lyrical moments are not lacking in the first half: thus, the initial encounter of Judith and Holofernes is represented as a sort of a pastoral idyll. In accordance with the biblical account, the libretto stresses Judith’s radiant beauty (splendor) and the admiration (stupor) it causes.18 Abra sings the aria ”Vultus tui vago splendori” (The charming splendor of your face) and in a recitative Holofernes describes her effect upon him, declaiming, ”Quid cerno! Oculi mei / Stupidi, quid videtis? / Solis an caeli splendor?” (What do I behold! My dazzled eyes, what do you see? The splendor of the sun or heaven?). In a Metastasian vein, Judith twice describes herself as a bird: first as a storm-tossed swallow – ”Agitata infido flatu ... Maesta hirundo” (The sad swallow buffeted by fickle winds) – and then as a turtledove – ”Veni, veni, me sequere fida ... Turtur gemo ac spiro in te” (Come, come, follow me faithfully … Like a turtledove I groan and sigh for you) – in an aria symbolically accompanied by a chalumeau.19

33The second half of the oratorio is dominated by the contrast between night and day. The fall of darkness prepares the scene for the prospect of lovemaking – Holofernes’s aria ”Nox obscura tenebrosa / Per te ridet luminosa” (The dark and shady night laughs radiant for you) and the fulfillment of Judith’s daring deed — Juditha’s ”Summe astrorum Creator” (Supreme Creator of the stars) and ”In somno profundo” (In deep slumber). Indeed, Holofernes falls asleep to Juditha’s lullaby ”Vivat in pace” (Live in peace), an aria accompanied only by the higher strings and decidedly more soothing than the Samson lullaby in Scarlatti’s Cambridge Giuditta. As dawn returns on the morrow, the eunuch Vagaus sets the scene in a tranquil recitative, ”Iam non procul ab axe / Est ascendens Aurora” (Now nearing the sky Aurora rises); but when he discovers Holofernes’s decapitated corpse, he launches into a vibrant ”rage aria”:

  • 20 The reference to vindictae (vengeance) echoes the opening chorus, and also anticipates the Italian (...)

Armatae face, et anguibus
A caeco regno squallido
Furoris sociae barbari,
Furiae, venite ad nos.
Morte, flagello, stragibus,
Vindictam tanti funeris
Irata nostra pectora
Duces docete vos.20

Armed with torches and serpents,
from your dark and squalid kingdom,
as partners in savage fury,
O Furies come to us.
By death, scourges, and slaughter,
as leaders teach
our angry hearts
to avenge this great death.

34By contrast, the dawn of the new day heartens the triumphant Bethulians, as Ozias sings, ”Quam insolita luce / Eois surgit ab oris ... Aurora ... Venit, Juditha venit” (With what unusual light Aurora rises in the East … She comes, Judith comes). Like the first part, the second ends with a chorus in triple time.

Francisco António de Almeida

35Support for Italian poetic and musical culture soon arrived from abroad. In the first quarter of the century, King John V of Portugal sent a number of musicians to Rome to study composition – among them Antonio Teixeira and João Rodrigues Esteves – and in turn summoned Domenico Scarlatti to Lisbon in 1719. In 1725, he donated a property on the lower Janiculum to the Academy of Arcadia, which was renamed the Bosco Parrasio, or Arcadian Grove. Around 1720, he helped send the young musician Francisco António de Almeida (ca. 1702–1755) to Rome, where he wrote two oratorios: Il pentimento di Davidde (1722, now lost) and La Giuditta (1726, SSAT). Dedicated to the Portuguese ambassador in Rome, and performed in the Oratorio of St. Philip Neri adjacent to the Chiesa Nuova, Almeida’s work uses an anonymous Italian libretto that contrasts the heroine’s role to the three male characters, Holofernes, Ozias, and Achior – omitting the servant Abra. The anonymous librettist has chosen an alternating pattern of scenes:

36Prima parte

37Introduzione

  • Betulia: Giuditta
  • Campo: Oloferne, Achiorre
  • Betulia: Ozia, Giuditta, Achiorre
  • Campo: Oloferne
  • Betulia: Ozia, Achiorre e Giuditta

38Seconda parte

  • Betulia: Giuditta, Ozia e Achiorre
  • Campo: Oloferne, Giuditta
  • Betulia: Ozia, Achiorre
  • 21 Cf. Judith’s recitative ”Tal è del mio Signor l’alto volere ... egli m’ha scelto a far vendetta” ( (...)
  • 22 For Metastasian lyrics involving the helmsman, see the 1819 Opere, vol. 16 (n. 17 above), pp. 309– (...)

39Perhaps as a Baroque appeal to the passions, the libretto repeatedly emphasizes the unbiblical theme of revenge (vendetta): witness Holofernes’s three arias: ”Invitti miei guerrier, / voglio vendetta” (My invincible warriors, I want revenge); ”Dal mio brando fulminante ... con rigor vendicherò” (With my thundering blade I shall sternly avenge); ”Date, o trombe, il suon guerriero! Su, miei fidi, a voi s’aspetta / far vendetta” (O trumpets, sound the warlike call! Up, my faithful friends, vengeance is expected of you); as well as Judith’s ”Dalla destra onnipotente / scenda un fulmine fremente / tanti oltraggi a vendicar” (From his omnipotent right hand may a roaring bolt descend to avenge such great insults).21 There are also a number of set pieces, using traditional operatic imagery, especially Judith’s two quasi-Metastasian arias invoking the helmsman who overcomes a tempest: ”Saggio nocchiero in ria procella” (The wise helmsman in the dire tempest) and ”Godete, sì, godete ... Tal, dopo ria procella ... il timido nocchiero / ritorna a far gioir” (Rejoice, yes, rejoice ... Just so, after the dire tempest the fearful helmsman again may rejoice).22 Like Vivaldi, Almeida concludes his work with pieces in triple time – two arias and a duet.

Metastasio

  • 23 On Metastasio, see Smithers, History of the Oratorio, 1, 390–95; 2, 51–67.
  • 24 Maria Grazia Accorsi, ”Le azioni sacre di Metastasio: Il razionalismo cristiano,” in Pinamonti (ed (...)
  • 25 Mangini, ”’Betulia liberata,’” p. 151: ”Il finale della prima parte rivela quindi come sia assegna (...)
  • 26 Cf. Smithers, History of the Oratorio, 2:54: ”In Betulia, because the place is the city of Bethuli (...)
  • 27 Other Mozart operas based at least in part on Metastasio include Il sogno di Scipione (1772), Luci (...)

40Inevitably, the master of Baroque libretti Pietro Metastasio dealt with the story, as one of seven oratorios he wrote for Holy Week in Vienna between 1730 and 1740.23 Composed in 1734, his La Betulia liberata (Bethulia delivered) foregrounds five Jewish protagonists (Ozias, Amital, Achior, Charmis, and Cabris), and places the emphasis on the doctrinal and devotional nature of their community.24 Thus, unlike Della Valle and Vivaldi, he makes the people of Bethulia his Chorus, rather than the enemy Assyrians; and he assigns the convert Achior a more important role than Holofernes.25 Indeed, Metastasio omits altogether the erotic confrontation of Holofernes and Judith, relegating the heroine’s deed to a sort of messenger’s account (what the Greeks called angelou rhesis) or narration after the fact.26 Initially set by Reutter and Jommelli, the libretto was brilliantly reused in 1771 by the fifteen-year-old Mozart (SSSATB). In his setting, the ruler of Bethulia, Ozia, is a tenor, an anticipation of the emperor Titus in La clemenza di Tito, the Metastasian libretto adapted by Mazzolà for Mozart twenty years later.27

41Parte prima

42Betulia: Ozia, Amital, Cabri, Coro; Achior; Cabri; Giuditta

43Parte seconda

44Ozia e Achior; Amital; Giuditta; Achior converted; Carmi reports the flight of the Assyrians; Coro

  • 28 Mangini, ”’Betulia liberata,’” p. 151, compares it to Holofernes’s ”Lampi e tuoni ho nel sembiante (...)
  • 29 See Paolo Pinamonti, ” ’Il ver si cerchi, / non la vittoria’: Implicazioni filosofiche della Betul (...)
  • 30 In the 1819 Opere (see n. 19 above), this lyric is on p. 312.
  • 31 While heroic oratorio and opera protagonists often mention victory and conquest, the Vulgate conta (...)

45In the first part, Achior sings ”Terribile d’aspetto” (Terrible to behold), a ”rage aria” describing Holofernes, who in fact does not appear in the drama!28 The second part opens with a theological debate between Ozia and Achior.29 Then Amital sings a ”Quel nocchier che in gran procella” (The helmsman who in a great tempest), a ”helmsman aria” typical of Metastasian lyric.30 In the second part, the climax of the oratorio seems rather static, and even Mozart’s youthful genius cannot evoke anything like dramatic heroics. After ten minutes of recitative, in which Judith relates how she slew Holofernes, the spotlight falls on Achior, who still remains doubtful after viewing the severed head of the enemy. Yet when Judith sings a metaphor aria reminiscent of Gluck, ”Prigionier che fa ritorno” (The prisoner who returns), Achior is converted and sings the aria ”Te solo adoro, mente infinita” (Thee alone I worship, infinite mind). Amital too is moved to penitence, and the oratorio concludes with the rejoicing of the Bethulian people at this double victory – the public rout of the Assyrians and the private conversion of Achior.31

Notes

1 See Lucrezia Tornabuoni de’ Medici, Sacred Narratives, trans. Jane Tylus (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 118–62.

2 See Giorgio Mangini, ”’Betulia liberata’ e ’La morte d’Oloferne’: Momenti di drammaturgia musicale nella tradizione dei ’Trionfi di Giuditta,’” in Paolo Pinamonti (ed.), Mozart, Padova e la Betulia Liberata: Committenza, interpretazione e fortuna delle azioni sacre metastasiane nel ’700, Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, 28–30 settembre 1989 (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1991), pp. 145–69. At p. 145 n. 1, he says that he has identified 220 libretti on the subject written between 1621 and 1934.

3 Lino Bianchi, Carissimi, Stradella, Scarlatti e l’oratorio musicale (Rome: Edizioni De Santis, 1969), pp. 9–10; see pp. 268–71 for a summary of La Giuditta ”di Napoli.”

4 Judith’s concern for her chaste reputation is evident from her words in showing Holofernes’s head to the Bethulians (Jdt 13:16): ”As the Lord lives, who has protected me in the way I went, I swear that it was my face that seduced him to his destruction, and that he committed no sin with me, to defile and shame me.” The passage is somewhat different in Jerome’s Vulgate (Jdt 13:20): ”Vivit autem ipse Dominus, quoniam custodivit me angelus eius et hinc euntem, et ibi commorantem, et inde huc revertentem, et non permisit Dominus ancillam coinquinari, sed sine pollutione peccati revocavit” (But the Lord himself lives, because his angel guarded me while leaving here, dwelling there, and returning here again; and the Lord did not let his handmaiden be polluted, but brought her back without the stain of sin). On this point, cf. Elena Ciletti, ”’Gran Macchina è Bellezza’: Looking at the Gentileschi Judiths,” in Mieke Bal (ed.), The Artemisia Files: Artemisia Gentileschi for Feminists and Other Thinking People (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 77: ”The language and the plot [of the biblical accounts] are replete with sexuality, but all versions of the text are emphatic regarding the heroine’s avoidance of ’defilement.’ Even her town’s name, Bethulia, refers to (her) sexual abstinence: it is etymologically close to the Hebrew word for virginity, bethula.”

5 Federico Della Valle, Iudit (1627), ed. Andrea Gareffi (Rome: Bulzoni, 1978) idem, Opere, ed. Maria Gabriella Stassi (Turin: UTET, 1995). For some comparisons between Della Valle’s verbal description and Artemisia Gentileschi’s visual portrayal, see Mary D. Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 316; and Elena Ciletti, ”’Gran Macchina è Bellezza,’” pp. 63–105, at 69–75.

6 See Jean-Michel Gardair, ”Giuditta e i suoi doppi,” in M. Chiabò and F. Doglio (eds.), I Gesuiti e i primordi del teatro barocco in Europa (Rome: Centro studi sul teatro medioevale e rinascimentale, 1995), pp. 457–63, on Della Valle’s Iudit, evoking Tasso’s nocturnal Clorinda and seductive Armida. See also Franca Angelini, ”Variazioni su Giuditta,” in Lucia Strappini (ed.), I luoghi dell’immaginario barocco (Naples: Liguori 2001), pp. 135–45, at 138 on ”l’opposizione giornonotte.”

7 For nocturnal imagery, see Iudit I. prol. 37–38: ”però notturna con la serva sola / move a pregar”; I.1: ”Solitarie, notturne ...”; I.160: ”mira in ciel quelle stelle!”; III.1.37: ”notturno ciel”; III.2.206 ”notturna venne”; III.5.601: ”toglie il notturno velo”; IV.1.133: ”solitaria notturna”; IV.2.220–23 (Oloferne): ”O carro et ore, che portate il die / a la tacita notte, / ahi, perché ad andar siete / sì neghittose e lente?”

8 For Olofernes’s desire (voglia), see the insistent repetitions in II.1.97,107,112,121,136, and 190. Cf. also III.1.20, 64: ”a le mie voglie cede”; III.4.313–14: ”placide voglie e dolci / mi stanno intorno al core”; III.4.371: ”la mia placida voglia”; III.4.380–81: ”solo il vinca / d’Oloferne la voglia!”; V.3.226–29 (Coro: the moral of the story): ”d’orgoglioso re superba voglia ... spesso costa la vita.” For Judith’s beauty (bellezza), see II.1.72: ”Bella bellezza anco nemica piace!”; II.1.130: ”Bellezza sovra ogni altra aventurosa”; II.4.500: ”Bellezza è sempre bella”; III.4.534: ”Bellezza è de’ dèi”; IV.4.31: ”Gran machina è bellezza”; IV.8.975–986: ”Iudit bella ... tanto in molle bellezza / ebbe ardir e fortezza!”

9 For the composer’s autograph score (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Rés. Vm1 259), see Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Oeuvres complètes, 28 vols. (Paris: Minkoff France Éditeur, 1991), 2, pp. 7–39. On Charpentier’s Latin oratorios, see Howard E. Smither, A History of the Oratorio, 4 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977–2000), 1:419–432. During this period, Racine (1639–1699) also celebrated femmes fortes in Andromaque (1667), Bérénice (1670), Iphigénie (1674), Phèdre (1677), Esther (1689), and Athalie (1691). The last two plays were adapted for English librettos set by Handel in 1718 and 1733, respectively.

10 The final chorus celebrates Judith in words that evoke the Virgin Mary: ”Et tu benedicta es mulier” (And you are blessed, woman). Charpentier’s text omits two references to the heroine’s striking beauty: Jdt 7:14 (”Erat in oculis eorum stupor, quoniam pulchritudinem ejus mirabantur nimis”): There was amazement in their eyes, because they wondered greatly at her beauty, and Jdt 7:19 (”Non est talis mulier super terram in aspectu, in pulchritudine, et in sensu verborum”): There is no other such woman on the earth in appearance, in beauty, and in the wisdom of her words.

11 See Norbert Dubowy, ”Le due’Giuditte’ di Alessandro Scarlattti: due diverse concezioni dell’oratorio,” in Paola Besutti (ed.), L’oratorio musicale italiano e i suoi contesti (secc. XVII–XVIII), Atti del convegno internazionale, Perugia, Sagra Musicale Umbra, 18–20 settembre 1997 (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2002), pp. 259–88. Antonio Ottoboni also supplied the libretto Caino o il primo omicidio set by Scarlatti in 1707. Pietro Ottoboni furnished Scarlatti with six other libretti: La SS. Annunziata, L’assunzione della BVM, S. Filippo Neri, Il regno di Maria assunta in Cielo, Il martirio di S. Cecilia, Oratorio per la Passione. (Pietro Ottoboni was later the Roman patron of the young Handel, whose English oratorios about heroic women – Esther, Deborah, Susanna, and Theodora – do not include Judith.)

12 A notable parallel in biblical oratorio may be seen in Herod’s ”Tuonerà tra mille turbini” in Alessandro Stradella, San Giovanni Battista (1675). On the latter, see Smither, History of the Oratorio, 1, 321–37, with an excerpt from what he calls Herod’s ”forceful first aria in fanfare style” at pp. 323–24, example VII-6c.

13 Cf. Franca Angelini, ”Variazioni su Giuditta,” in Lucia Strappini (ed.), I luoghi dell’immaginario barocco (Naples: Liguori, 2001), pp. 135–45, at 135–36, for a partial comparison with Don Giovanni.

14 Oloferne, ”Togliti da quest’occhi / Per non ferirmi il cor, bellezza infida” (Remove yourself from my sight lest you wound my heart, treacherous beauty).

15 Norbert Dubowy, ”Le due’Giuditte,’” p. 268.

16 ”Praesens est bellum, saeve minantur et hostes; / Adria Juditha est, et socia Abra Fides. / Bethulia Ecclesia, Ozias summusque sacerdos, / Christiadum coetus, virgineumque decus, / Rex Turcarum Holofernes, dux Eunuchus, et omnis / Hinc victrix Venetum quam bene classis erit” (War is near, and enemies fiercely menace; Judith is the Adriatic, and her companion Abra our Faith; Bethulia is the Church – Ozias the supreme pontiff – the union of Christians and the honor of virgins; Holofernes is the King of the Turks, his general a Eunuch; and hence how fitting that the whole fleet of the Venetians will conquer).

17 Smithers, History of the Oratorio, 1, 348–55.

18 Cf. Jdt 10:4: ”Cui etiam Dominus contulit splendorem: quoniam omnis ista compositio non ex libidine, sed ex virtute pendebat: et ideo Dominus hanc in illam pulchritudinem ampliavit, ut incomparabili decore omnium oculis appareret” (And the Lord bestowed radiance on her, for all her grace derived not from lust, but from virtue; and therefore the Lord increased her beauty, so that she would appear of incomparable charm in everyone’s eyes); and 10:14: ”Et cum audissent viri illi verba ejus, considerabant faciem ejus, et erat in oculis eorum stupor, quoniam pulchritudinem ejus mirabantur nimis” (When the men had heard her words, they observed her face, and there was amazement in their eyes, because they greatly wondered at her beauty).

19 Vivaldi had already written a swallow aria, ”Se garrisce la rondinella” (If the swallow chirps), in Braccioli’s 1716 Orlando finto pazzo, and would write another turtledove aria, ”Sta piangendo la tortorella” (The turtledove is weeping), in Metastasio’s 1734 L’Olimpiade. Vivaldi was also famed for the instrumental bird-calls in The Four Seasons and the flute concerto called Il cardellino (The goldfinch). (Handel too wrote celebrated ”bird” arias and choruses in Rinaldo and in the oratorios L’Allegro ed il Penseroso and Solomon.) Metastasio’s lyrics involving birds are collected in Pietro Metastasio, Opere, vol. 16 (Florence: Gabinetto di Pallade, 1819), pp. 321–22 (swallow) and pp. 331–32 (turtledove).

20 The reference to vindictae (vengeance) echoes the opening chorus, and also anticipates the Italian libretto set by Almeida (see below). The expression caeco regno (dark kingdom) recalls the cieco mondo (dark world) of Dante, Inferno 4.13, and its echo in the aria ”Nel profondo cieco mondo” (In the deep dark world) in Act I of Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso. Cf. also Metastasio’s lyric, ”Gemo in un punto e fremo ... ho mille Furie in sen” (I groan and rage together … I have a thousand Furies in my breast) in L’Olimpiade, set by Vivaldi in 1734.

21 Cf. Judith’s recitative ”Tal è del mio Signor l’alto volere ... egli m’ha scelto a far vendetta” (Such is the high will of my Lord ... He has chosen me to take revenge). Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans opens with a chorus alluding to vindictae (vengeance). The only parallel in the Vulgate is Jdt 7:20, where the Bethulians call upon God to take pity or to punish their iniquities: ”Tu, quia pius es, miserere nostri, aut in tuo flagello vindica iniquitates nostras” (Because You are devout, have mercy on us, or with your scourge avenge our iniquities).

22 For Metastasian lyrics involving the helmsman, see the 1819 Opere, vol. 16 (n. 17 above), pp. 309–13, citing 16 examples.

23 On Metastasio, see Smithers, History of the Oratorio, 1, 390–95; 2, 51–67.

24 Maria Grazia Accorsi, ”Le azioni sacre di Metastasio: Il razionalismo cristiano,” in Pinamonti (ed.), Mozart, Padova e la Betulia Liberata, pp. 3–26, esp. 13–24.

25 Mangini, ”’Betulia liberata,’” p. 151: ”Il finale della prima parte rivela quindi come sia assegnato a Achior, e non ad Oloferne come nel passato, il ruolo dell’antogonista.”

26 Cf. Smithers, History of the Oratorio, 2:54: ”In Betulia, because the place is the city of Bethulia, the audience learns of Judith’s experiences in the Assyrian camp (including her beheading of the enemy commander Holofernes) only after she has completed the deed and returned to the city. Holofernes is not even a personage in that work, and thus Metastasio, with customary restraint, rejects the dramatic potential of dialogue between him and Judith.”

27 Other Mozart operas based at least in part on Metastasio include Il sogno di Scipione (1772), Lucio Silla (1772), and Il re pastore (1775).

28 Mangini, ”’Betulia liberata,’” p. 151, compares it to Holofernes’s ”Lampi e tuoni ho nel sembiante,” in Scarlatti’s Naples Giuditta (mentioned above). On Mozart’s treatment of the words, see David Humphreys in H. C. Robbins Landon (ed.), The Mozart Compendium: A Guide to Mozart’s Life and Music (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990), p. 321.

29 See Paolo Pinamonti, ” ’Il ver si cerchi, / non la vittoria’: Implicazioni filosofiche della Betulia metastasiana,” in idem, Mozart, Padova e la Betulia liberata, pp. 73–86.

30 In the 1819 Opere (see n. 19 above), this lyric is on p. 312.

31 While heroic oratorio and opera protagonists often mention victory and conquest, the Vulgate contains only one reference to God’s victory: ”revocavit me vobis gaudentem in victoria sua, in evasione mea, et in liberatione vestra” (Judith 13:20: He has restored me to you rejoicing in his victory, in my escape, and in your delivery).

Auteur

David Marsh

David Marsh who studied Comparative Literature at Yale and Harvard, is Professor of Italian at Rutgers University and specializes in the influence of the classical tradition on the Italian Renaissance. His books include The Quattrocento Dialogue and Lucian and the Latins, and he has edited and translated works by Petrarch, Alberti, Leonardo, Vico, and mathematician Paolo Zellini.

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