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The Sword of Judith

 | 
Kevin R. Brine
, 
Elena Ciletti
, 
Henrike Lähnemann

Music and Drama

23. Marcello and Peri’s Giuditta (1860)

Alexandre Lhâa

Texte intégral

Introduction: A Successful Opera

  • 1 Throughout this study, translations – of books, newspaper articles, or libretti – are my own unles (...)
  • 2 La Perseveranza stresses that children, ”while having read it in the sacred volume as well as admi (...)
  • 3 ”Judith […] is thought to be unfit to assume melodramatic forms and musical format” (ibid.).
  • 4 Ibid. The newspapers counted between ten and twenty curtain calls for the composer.

1”One of the best melodramas to come out for many years.” It is with these laudatory terms that the Gazzetta dei teatri reviewed Giuditta, the day after its creation on the stage of the most important theatre of Milan: La Scala.1 Composed by Achille Peri on a libretto by Marco Marcello, this biblical melodrama premiered on 26 March 1860. The subject matter, popular and widely diffused on the Italian peninsula,2 was reputed inadaptable to the lyrical stage.3 Nevertheless, it proved to be a triumphant success.4

2The melodramatic adaptation of the biblical episode, realized by Marco Marcello, introduces the reader/spectator to Bethulia besieged by the Assyrians. Several voices proclaim the surrender of the city. However, spurred on by the exhortations of the High Priest, Eliachimo, they all swear to fight until death. Giuditta announces that she has just discovered water for the thirsty inhabitants. Eliachimo declares that Heaven has destined her to accomplish a high mission, whereupon she promises to deliver her homeland from the enemy. Later, Gionata, a young warrior, offers his protection to Giuditta, whereas the populace demands her death, upon learning that the water she discovered was poisoned. When he declares his love for her, she turns him down, explaining that her only desire is to dedicate herself to God and her homeland. Giuditta convinces the people of her innocence and assures them that she will find the means to liberate Bethulia. Then she enters the Assyrian encampment and approaches General Holofernes with the request that he cease to oppress her people. He asks her to become queen at his side. She promises to give herself to him that very night. Eliachimo and Gionata, captured near the Assyrian encampment, are brought before Holofernes, in chains. Appalled at Giuditta’s presence at the general’s side, they both disown her. She asks Holofernes to free Eliachimo, but to surrender to her Gionata, so that she could punish him for insulting her. The general agrees. Then, when the celebrations take place in Holofernes’s pavilion, Giuditta comes to free Gionata, who has been chained up in a remote part of the camp, and promises to do everything to liberate Bethulia. After the sleeping Holofernes has been conducted into his alcove, Giuditta prays to God for the force to accomplish her deed. As a tempest brews outside, she enters the alcove with a sword in her hand. At this precise instant, the Assyrian camp is put to rout and engulfed in flames. After the tempest subsides, on a hill in the rising sun, Giuditta appears next to Holofernes’s impaled head. The curtain falls at the moment of her apotheosis.

  • 5 Gazzetta di Milano, 27 March 1860.

3The additions made to the initial framework of the Judith narrative derive either from Marcello’s main source or from his own imagination. In the prefatory notice of the libretto, he indicates that he has consulted Madame de Girardin’s Judith from 1843, Friedrich Hebbel’s Judith, dated 1840, and finally Paolo Giacometti’s eponymous tragedy, Giuditta, published in 1857, which the librettist names as a particularly vital inspiration. Marcelloclaims to have made ”some cuts indispensable to brevity, to concision,” allowing himself only such rare – but highly significant – initiatives, as the final ”Hymn to Liberty,” which bears little similarity to Judith and the Hebrew people’s hymn of thanksgiving in the Bible, and does not even appear in the acknowledged source. Marcello’s adaptation – even though greeted almost unanimously – was notably criticized by the Milanese press for being too long and confused.5 Some journalists picked out imperfections both in the libretto and in the score. Moreover, the performance was handicapped by the tenor’s immediate loss of voice. These failures seem incompatible with the huge enthusiasm related by the press.

4A remark from the Gazzetta di Milano offers an explanation of the success of Giuditta. The journalist underlines that the Judith narrative belongs to the category of ”grandiose and national” subjects. Among the plurality of possible readings of the Book of Judith, the librettist’s preference seems unsurprising. His choice and Giuditta’s success with the audience are accounted for by the immediate historical context of the opera’s creation and performance. On 20 April 1859, Austria presented an ultimatum to the Piedmont, provoking hostilities. A few months later the Franco-Piemontese alliance secured the victories of Magenta (4 June) and Solferino (24 June), gaining control of Milan and Lombardy. The enthusiasm that Giuditta provoked in the audience, far from being due to the opera’s formal quality only, can be explained by Marcello’s ability to make the biblical narrative echo back contemporary realities of the Italian war of independence.

5The aim of this paper is to show how the librettist infused the Book of Judith with the nationalist-patriotic ideology of the Risorgimento and tried, by undertaking an indispensable – though apparently insufficient – adjustment, to turn the biblical character into an emblem of the national movement of independence.

The Political Usage of the Judith Narrative

  • 6 See the text in the appendix.
  • 7 I reproduce here the concise and relevant definition that Alberto Mario Banti has given of the Ris (...)
  • 8 Gazzetta dei teatri, 2 December 1859.
  • 9 La Perseveranza, 15 August 1859.

6”Libertà” (Liberty), the last word of the opera, is repeated four times in the eponymous hymn. To the noun is added the verbal form: ”liberar” (to liberate).6 This insistence contributes to confirm the idea of a patriotic reading of Giuditta, in tune with the ultimate events of the Risorgimento.7 The context in which it was composed substantiates a political reading of the opera. Milan was then ”invaded by ’politico-mania,’”8 and the lyrical stages were not spared by this movement. On 15 August 1859 and on 26 February 1860, two hymns were performed at La Scala in the presence of the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, Victor-Emmanuel II. The librettist of Giuditta himself wrote the lyrics of the first one. Marco Marcello extolled the liberation of Lombardy from a ”blind tyranny,” and affirmed that the moment of the liberation of Italy in its entirety would occur soon. The journalist who related the events of that evening wrote of the exaltation provoked by such lyrics, in which he saw ”the will of a people ready to sacrifice everything, for independence and for liberty.”9

  • 10 Charlotte Corday was the murderess of the French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. For her def (...)
  • 11 Paolo Giacometti, Teatro, ed. Eugenio Buonaccorsi (Genoa: Costa & Nolan, 1983), p. 330.

7The first indication of Marcello’s intention to give a political dimension to Judith’s action lies in the comparison with Charlotte Corday, who was at the center of numerous political debates, especially in France.10 He saw in Judith ”la Carlotta Corday dell’istoria ebraica” (the Charlotte Corday of the Hebraic history). This comparison is established at the beginning of the prefatory note, in an assertion evoking the words of Paolo Giacometti. If Marcello claims to have drawn his inspiration from Giacometti’s play, he nonetheless disagreed with him on this point. Indeed, Giacometti clearly refutes the parallel between the two women, adding: ”Politics has nothing to do with this purely religious and theocratic war.”11 But Giacometti’s play was performed shortly before the second independence war, and was therefore grasped by the audience as containing a strong political significance, one contrary to its author’s intentions. This is certainly one of the reasons why Marcello made of Giacometti’s Giuditta the main source of inspiration for his own work.

  • 12 La Perseveranza, 28 March 1860.

8On the day after the performance of Marcello and Peri’s opera, the critics highlighted the allusion to the immediate context of the Risorgimento by making clear the implicit association of the Assyrians with the Austrians. La Perseveranza, describing the final chorus of the third act, mentions ”a resounding call to arms, challenging this kind of Austrian to the battle.” Later, commenting on the stage setting at the end of the opera, the journalists employ nominal substitution: ” […] we see the people of Bethulia, who, artistically arranged around Radetsky’s skull start singing […] a hymn […].”12Joseph Radetzky, who takes Holofernes’s place in this critic’s article, had died two years before. As general of the Austrian army, he had crushed the Milanese insurrection of 1848, defeating Charles-Albert of Sardinia, Victor-Emmanuel II’s father, during the battles of Custoza (1848) and Novara (1849).

  • 13 Carlotta Sorba, ”Il 1848 e la melodrammatizzazione della politica,” in A. M. Banti and P. Ginsborg (...)

9Carlotta Sorba has underlined the striking permeability between the political and theatrical spheres during the war of 1848.13 The very foundation of the melodrama as a genre resides in the Manichean opposition between good and evil, a stylistic figure omnipresent in nationalistic discourse. In Giuditta, as the Assyrians are described in dark terms, the anti-Austrian rhetoric coincides with the essentialism which governs – in the operatic genre in particular – the depiction of the Oriental: cruel, ungodly, indulging in luxuriousness. Faced with them, Giuditta is described as a ”santa donna” (holy woman), the ”angiol salvator” (savior angel) of a thirsty and threatened people. Furthermore, the slaughter of the Assyrians in the Bible after Judith ordered it is not mentioned in the opera.

  • 14 See Domenico Buffa on Austrian people and the description used in the proclamation to the Bolognes (...)
  • 15 These words bring to mind Costanza d’Azeglio’s assertion: ”they are no longer men, they are wild b (...)
  • 16 Alberto Mario Banti, L’onore della nazione: identita sessuali e violenza nel nazionalismo europeo (...)

10Moreover, some easily identifiable rhetorical features of the Risorgimento can be found throughout Giuditta. The association Assyrians/Austrians revolves around the figure of the ”barbarian” — a word that is uncannily familiar to nationalistic writers and speakers in reference to the Austrians.14 In the opera, Arzaele and Giuditta go further: the servant tells how she fell ”preda” (prey) to the Assyrians while Giuditta draws a picture of Holofernes as a ”tigre feroce” (fierce tiger).15 Both the chronicles and the melodramas of the period depict enemies capable of violence, in particular against women. Sexual abuse against women constitutes the highest insult to the nation’s honor. Alberto Mario Banti emphasizes how many narratives contemporary with national movements used to highlight feminine chastity and fragility — two distinctive traits that favored the development of plots constructed around the enemy’s attempt to violate the most precious quality of national heroines: virginal purity.16

11Giuditta provides two more striking examples of the intermingling of opera and the discourse of the Risorgimento: the oath and the readiness to sacrifice. Facing the inhabitants of Bethulia, Gionata takes an oath. The scene, which appears neither in the Holy Scriptures nor in Giacometti’s tragedy, is an addition by Marcello:

Gion. (con impeto supremo)
Giuriamo, in pria di cedere
Al barbaro Oloferne,
Di seppellirci tutti nelle natie caverne …
Meglio perir distrutti, che scerre una viltà.
Spesso il furor d’un popolo Gli acquista libertà.
[…] (Tutti ripetono il giuramento di Gionata invasi dal suo fuoco.)

Gion. [with the highest fervor]
Let’s swear, before surrendering
to the barbarous Holofernes,
All to bury ourselves in the native caves …
It is better to die destroyed, than to choose vileness.
Often the fury of a people awards it freedom.
[…] [They all repeat Gionata’s oath, conquered by his ardor.]

  • 17 Sorba, ”Il 1848,” p. 502. Sorba stresses that the collective oath was borrowed from the stage by t (...)

12According to Sorba, the collective oath represents ”the most evident dramatization of the birth of a political community, which becomes self-identified in this ritual.”17 One of the major characteristics that emerges from these oaths is the notion of sacrifice. The sacrifice of one’s child or of one’s self — nothing can be refused to the Homeland. Marcello’s Giuditta, who is ready to give her life, is the perfect embodiment of this spirit. If the sacrifice is never accomplished (because the Lord keeps a watchful eye on her, as she underlines it), Giuditta at the very least assumes the will to accomplish it. While she finds herself threatened by the inhabitants of Bethulia, she answers:

Giud. […] Perché depor quell’armi,
Levate a trucidarmi ?
Io sono inerme, debole:
Compite il sagrifizio …
Ah, possa questa vittima
Rendervi il ciel propizio !
Morendo ancor, Giuditta
A voi benedirà.

  • 18 In this aria sung by Giuditta, the discourse of the Risorgimento on sacrifice merges with the oper (...)

Giud. […] Why lay down these arms
raised for slaying me?
I am defenseless, weak:
execute the sacrifice …
Ah, could this victim make
Heaven more favorable to you!
Dying, Giuditta
will still bless you.18

  • 19 Banti stresses that ”self-sacrifice, in the Christian tradition and in the re-elaborations realize (...)

13In the prefatory notice of his tragedy, Giacometti defends the sacrifice accomplished by her – i.e., her will to give her honor, ”the holiest of human feeling” – to the Homeland, and considers it higher than that accomplished by Brutus, who had, as a consul of Rome, given the blood of his sons, conspirators against the Republic.19 We must keep in mind that the defense of women’s honor does not bind exclusively women but the whole community: as Banti asserts,

  • 20 Ibid.

the idea that the national community has sexual frontiers and an internal structure founded on monogamous marriage, on lineage, and therefore on the certain individuation of paternity, makes of sexual aggression a concrete threat for the passage of national lineage, as well as a proof of the poor ability of the nation’s men to defend their own women.20

14The reactions of Gionata and Eliachimo, finding Giuditta in Holofernes’s pavilion, translate this dimension attached to the honor of women:

Gion. E l’onor, la patria, Iddio,

Empia tu tradivi intanto! ...

Eran tue virtù mendaci, Era falso il tuo pudor! ...
Sul tuo fronte io veggo baci
Che ti diede l’oppressor
[…]
Eliac. Eri il giglio d’Israele
Per virtudi, per pudor:
Or macchiata ed infedele
De’ fratelli sei l’orror!

Gion. […] And the honor, the homeland, God:
Impious, you betrayed in the meantime!
Your virtues were false, Your modesty was insincere! ...
Upon your face I see the kisses
That the oppressor gave you.
[…]
Eliac. You were the lily of Israel
By your virtues, by your modesty:
Now sullied and unfaithful,
You are the horror of your brothers!

15But the case of Giuditta is specific. In patriotic representations, women who must protect their honor are represented as passive: either their honor is defended by men, or they commit suicide not to be dishonored. Here, Giuditta openly takes the risk to expose her honor for the sake of the Homeland:

E se illibata mai
Non esca dal conflitto,
Me rinfacciar vorrai
Del santo mio delitto?
È periglioso il còmpito
Che a me la patria indice:

O vinta o vincitrice,
Pensa che Iddio lo vuol!

Should I not emerge
Uncorrupted from the conflict,
Will you want to reproach me
For my pious crime?
The task which the homeland indicates to me is perilous:
Either winner or loser
Think that this is God’s will!

16As she reminds Gionata, her name must be preserved from infamy and her sacrifice must not be in vain: it will have to serve to edify the coming generations that they might remember that she ”died for the liberation of her Homeland.” Marcello’s libretto even makes divine participation in the national movement unavoidable and exalts liberty more than divine will.

  • 21 See these two texts in the Appendix.

17In this sense, Marcello’s work distinguishes itself from two precedent works dedicated to Judith. Giacometti’s tragedy and the opera of Giovanni Peruzzini (librettist) and Emilio Cianchi (composer), created in Venice in 1844, and performed again in Florence in 1860, both end with an exaltation of divine will.21 What, then, is the treatment of the religious dimension in Marcello’s opera?

The Religious Dimension

18The choice to present a biblical episode, and that of Judith in particular, can be understood as the librettist’s desire to legitimate the independence movement’s struggle through identification with the Hebrew people, which obviously enjoys God’s support. In Marcello’s Giuditta, God supports the liberation of the Homeland from barbarians. The words ”Iddio”/ ”Dio” (God) and ”Signor” (Lord) are uttered more than twenty times by the Hebrew characters, making him appear several times as a warrior God, justifying in this way the war against Austria-Assyria. Besides, Eliachimo describes the conflict as a ”santa guerra” (holy war) and the character who actually brings about the liberation of Bethulia, Giuditta, is endowed, throughout the opera, with religious qualities or compared to other biblical figures: the piety of the character is strongly emphasized and she is alternately described as a ”santa donna” (holy woman – twice), ”l’ispirata figlia di Mèrari” (the inspired daughter of Merari) or as an angel. She is said to be ”la suora di Iäel” (the sister of Jael), ”la nuova Debora” (the new Deborah), and after she has vanquished Holofernes, a ”new Deborah, more undefeated than Jael.” Right from the first war of independence at the end of the 1840s, the conflict was described by the members of the nationalistic movement as a ”holy crusade.” Their discourse was imbued with mention of religious words, symbols, and rites.

19In Giuditta, the Assyrians present themselves as the archenemies of the religion:

Sulle vette del sacro Sïonne
Fia distrutto di Ièhova l’impero;

Del suo tempio fra l’auree colonne
Nitrirà d’Oloferne il destriero.

Sulla terra Nabucco, nel cielo
Belo sol oggimai regnerà […]

On the peak of holy Zion
May the empire of Jehovah be destroyed;
Holofernes’s horse will neigh,
Among the golden columns of his temple.
On earth Nabucco, in Heaven
Only Baal will reign from now on […]

  • 22 The plural used here is due to poetic considerations.
  • 23 ”Preghiera alla Vergine,” Pistoia, 1848, quoted in Enrico Francia, ”Clero e religione nel lungo Qu (...)

20Later, Holofernes affirms: ”Ora vo’ guerreggiar contro gli Dei” (Now I want to fight against the gods).22 This scene echoes the anti-Austrian images diffused when Austrian imperial soldiers had, on several occasions, burst into churches. They were described as barbarians ”who have violated the temples sacred to your cult, shed the members of the dying priests on the altars covered with blood, desecrated the Holy Virgins […] had said in the fury of slaughters: we are God.”23

  • 24 Quoted in Francia, ”Clero e religione,” p. 446.

21The identification of the Italian people with the Hebrew people is not only the result of a specific correspondence between the Judith narrative and the historical context. Beyond this parallel, a deep link has been established by Vincenzo Gioberti, one of the main thinkers of the Risorgimento. He explained that he envisaged ”the biblical narrative as the explicative paradigm of History” and added that ”Italy is the chosen people, the typical people, the creator people, the Israel of the modern age.” According to him, ”in Italy, like in Israel, […] God enters into an alliance with a special people in order to train it to be mediator and bonding element of universal fellowship.”24

22Furthermore, in 1860, following opposition and harsh attacks on the national liberation movement by Pope Pius IX, there was a need to assert more strongly its religious legitimacy. In 1848, the pope had renounced the idea of heading an Italian confederation, and had tried to discredit the movement as impious, definitively condemning the national movement. Thus, the choice of the Judith narrative and the incessant references to God proved useful to legitimate the movement of liberation against the Austrians but also against the Catholic hierarchy.

23But beyond the nationalist reading offered by the Judith narrative and its readiness to act as a vehicle to assert the religious dimension of the Risorgimento, the way Marco Marcello treats the heroine herself and the reception of the character in the press betray a striking awkwardness vis-à-vis the representation of a triumphant woman.

An Awkward Femininity

  • 25 Simonetta Chiappini, ”La voce della martire. Dagli ’evirati cantori’ all’eroina romantica,” in Sto (...)
  • 26 Niccolò Tommaseo, La donna. Scriti vari (Milan, 1872, first edition 1833), quoted in Simonetta Chi (...)
  • 27 Banti, L’onore della nazione, p. 229.
  • 28 Ibid.
  • 29 This evokes the leaders of the Italian independence denouncing the cowardice of the inhabitants of (...)

24At first glance, the choice to stage a ”triumphant Judith” can appear surprising with regard to the rules that govern the representation of women in patriotic discourse, but also regarding the role of heroines in Romantic opera. Soprano roles are characterized by a vocation to martyrdom. Romantic operas end, generally if not inevitably, with the ”sacrificial immolation” of the heroine.25 This representation of femininity greatly exceeded the sphere of the mere melodrama. Authors like Alessandro Manzoni or Niccolò Tommaseo shared this vision of a suffering femininity. Tommaseo wrote in La Donna: ”in everything [the woman] is condemned to suffer.”26 Furthermore, as Banti demonstrates, the gender division of roles was evident in the representation of the nation in conflict: ”to men the weapons, to women tears and prayer.”27 But Giuditta, although she is conscious that prayer is the attitude proper to a woman – ”debole donna … Pregar mi lice …” (weak woman … to pray I am allowed …) – is absolutely not a weeping woman. She acts, without the help of any man, for the successful liberation of Bethulia, whereas even the bravest women in traditional representations could only encourage their lovers to fight against the enemy of the Homeland, even if they had been disconsolate at their departure. In these representations, there are no women at all who would take up arms to fight, either alone or alongside men: even the allegories of the nation are frequently disarmed, if not physically, then at least symbolically.28 Can Giuditta then be considered an opera that advocates the participation of women in the Risorgimento? The sharp contrast between Giuditta and the men of Bethulia seems to confirm it. Whereas they appear cowardly29 in the first scenes of the opera, Giuditta, facing them, shows the courage which they lack:

Ebben, poiché negli uomini
È spenta la virtù,
L’avrà una debol femina;
E quella io sono.

Well, as virtue
is dead in men,
a weak woman shall have it;
and I am the one.

  • 30 The expression is used by the Italian historian Michela di Giorgio.
  • 31 Niccolò Tommaseo, La Donna, scritti vari, quoted in Michela de Giorgio, ”La bonne catholique,” in (...)
  • 32 Silvana Patriarca has stressed an ”intimate convergence between nationalism and the new sexual mor (...)
  • 33 A striking example of the rejection of women from the public sphere is given by a journalist of th (...)
  • 34 Giacometti, Teatro, p. 263.

25These verses evoke both Giacometti’s and Niccolò Tommaseo’s words. The latter expressed notably the canon of ”idealtypology”30 of the national Italian woman in his book, La Donna, published for the first time in 1833: ”the Italian woman, capable of inspirations, knowing how to obey, knowing how to command wherever necessary, is for us the guarantee of a destiny less severe. Whereas men show themselves to be more corrupted and weaker, women have more courage and virtue.”31 But in the nationalist-patriotic ideology, women must show these moral values in the domestic sphere, and not on the battlefield, or within political institutions. Thus, during this period, the domestic role of women inside the family was strongly emphasized,32 whereas a role to play in the public sphere was clearly refused to them.33 Giacometti, for his part, moves away from this idea. If he also writes in his prefatory notice that ”we must be grateful to the woman who knows how to rise above the men of her people, if those men are weakened by fear, and quite like cadavers,” he then evokes the women who shed their blood defending the Homeland and condemns ”the will to exclude women of generous and strong works.”34 Although Marcello acknowledges

26Giacometti’s tragedy as his main source of inspiration, his position on the subject seems radically different. Indeed, several scenes previously she proclaims that she will get the virtue that men have lost; Giuditta promises to save the Homeland. Upon hearing this, the chorus exclaims:

O prodigio! In lei di donna
Or più nulla ormai restò.
Di una vedova ha la gonna,
D’eroina il cor mostrò.

O miracle! at this point,
there remains nothing of a woman in her.
She gets a widow’s skirt,
she shows the heart of a heroine.

  • 35 Judith’s final triumph at the price of the supreme transgression, i.e., of the murder of a man, ha (...)
  • 36 Quoted in Geneviève Dermenjian and Jacques Guilhaumou, ”Le ’crime héroïque’ de Charlotte Corday,” (...)

27Here, Marcello’s words desexualize Giuditta.35 They are reminiscent of a French journalist’s comments on the murder committed by Charlotte Corday, that by this deed she has thrown herself ”absolutely out of her sex.”36 In both cases, the unconventional, extraordinary action – whose realization defines the hero – cannot be accomplished by a woman. This negation of Giuditta’s femininity lies within the more general framework of the redefinition of the hero. If the literary genre of biographies of illustrious women relates several stories of women putting on men’s clothes in order to go fight, the prevailing model is the representation of the homeland savior as male – a trend initiated during the French Revolution and perpetuated during the national conflicts of the nineteenth century.

  • 37 La Perseveranza, 28 March 1860.
  • 38 Quoted in .......Banti, L’onore della nazione, p. 5.

28The correspondence of Giuditta to the canons of idealypology, and the denial of her femininity at the moment when she accomplishes her act, clearly show either Marcello’s adhesion to patriarchal discourse on women, or at least his desire to correspond to the audience’s expectations. But this denial seems insufficient according to some journalists’ reactions. For the most part, the press remains silent about Giuditta’s heroism. What’s more, the following surprising observation in La Perseveranza stands out: according to the author, a great part of the success of the adaptation of the Judith narrative to the opera lies in the presence in this narrative of ”the ardor of the violent and generous passions, which are love of the woman and of the Homeland.” The author doesn’t even mention Giuditta’s action and lingers instead on Gionata, a character who does not participate in the liberation of Bethulia. He describes him as ”Gionata […] l’Achille del poema” (the Achilles of the poem), and qualifies him as a ”giovane eroe” (young hero). He even attempts to ridicule Giuditta by a sarcastic remark about the scene preceding the murder of Holofernes: ”Giuditta, who was lying in wait […], seizes the scimitar, and, after some gymnastic exercise, she manages to wield it around in the air like a branch, and then to drop it on the head of the abhorred tyrant.”37 Probably, the journalist was uneasy in the same way as Bismarck was in front of a reproduction of Karl Weissbach’s Germania: ”A woman with a sword in such an aggressive posture is unnatural.”38

Conclusion: The Dangerous Seductress

  • 39 Anne Eriksen, ”Etre ou agir ou le dilemme de l’héroïne,” in P. Centlivres, D. Fabre, and F. Zonabe (...)

29In Marcello’s opera, Giuditta’s character assumes a clearly paradoxical dimension, sandwiched between the nationalist usage to which she lends herself and the gender structures of contemporary Italian society. She is exalted as a liberator of the Homeland, while at the same time her femininity is denied. Giuditta, among many others, is ”plagued by interpretative needs of a male-dominated society.”39

  • 40 Between the performance of March 1860 and that of 1862, a peace treaty had been signed between Fra (...)
  • 41 In 1862, the famous figure of the Risorgimento led an expedition against Rome – at that time under (...)
  • 42 Joncières denounces a treacherous Dalila whose voice ”hypocritically affectionate, add[s] charm to (...)

30Marcello’s work, transformed, was performed again in 1862, never to be staged again at La Scala. The Hymn to Liberty has been replaced by a tribute to God, doing away with Giuditta’s apotheosis.40 Moreover, the Judith narrative echoed the political context once again, as shown by an article of the Gazzetta di Milano dated 25 September 1862. The journalist ironically criticizes the fact that when Judith cuts off Holofernes’s head, she is considered a ”heroine,” a ”saint,” whereas ”nowadays proceedings are instituted against Garibaldi.”41 Beyond the irony, the journalist uses a striking vocabulary to describe Judith’s act – ”to seduce,” ”charms,” ”treacherously” – these words echo verses from the opera, e.g., where Giuditta refers to herself and Holofernes (”Fra I lubrici nodi di astuto serpente / Il tigre feroce costretto morrà” (between the lubricious knots of an astute snake / the fierce tiger will die packed). The librettist’s metaphor as well as the journalist’s comment – whose terms echo Victorin Joncières’s words about Saint-Saëns’s heroine, Dalila42 – both announce the anxious fascination with the figure of the dangerous seductress, which will culminate in the culture of the fin-de-siècle.

Appendix to Chapter 23

31Giuditta. Melodramma biblico in tre atti. Poesia di M. Marcello; musica del maestro Achille Peri. Da rappresentarsi al Regio Teatro della Scala in Milano nella stagione di quaresima 1860 (Milano, Paolo Ripamonti Carpano, 1860, p. 45)

32Scena ultima

33Sopra un’altura GIUDITTA, recante in mano la gran scimitarra di Oloferne insanguinata, accanto a lei ABRAMIA: alla sua destra ELIACHIMO, in atto di benedirla, e GIONATA prostrato alla sua sinistra. La testa di Oloferne conficcata ad un’asta nel mezzo. POPOLO EEBREO [sic] intorno prostrato; mentre un drappello di DONZELLE recano ghirlande e spargono fiori innanzi all’Eroina.

34Esaltati dal più sublime degli entusiasmi, accompagnato dalle arpe intuonano il seguente:

35I.

36Sull’arpe d’oro un cantico

37si levi in Israele.

38Alfine I guai cessarono

39Di servitù crudele:

40Alfin la patria liberata

41Di nuovo sorgerà.

42Eccheggi fino a Solima

43L’Inno di Libertà.

44II.

45Te, rediviva Debora,

46Più di Iäele invitta,

47Te festeggiante il popolo

48Esalti, o pia Giuditta.

49Viva il tuo nome splendido

50Nelle future età :

51Eterno simbolo

52Ei sia di Libertà.

53III.

54A liberar dei barbari

55Il suo terren natio

56Quando combatte un popolo,

57Con lui combatte Iddio.

58Eroe diventa il pargolo

59Che in campo scenderà,

60Contro i stranieri eserciti,

61Gridando: Libertà!

62IV.

63O Libertà magnanimo

64Sospiro d’ogni gente:

65Dove tu regni è limpido

66Il cielo, e il suol fiorente:

67Per tuà virtu germogliano

68L’amore e la pietà ...

69Per te morire o vivere

70E bello, o Libertà!

71(Apoteosi di Giuditta)

72Fine

73Giuditta. A Biblical Melodrama in Three Acts. Lyrics by M. Marcello; music by maestro Achille Peri. To be staged at the Royal Theater La Scala in Milan during the Lent season of 1860 (Milan, Paolo Ripamonti Carpano, 1860, p. 45 / my translation)

74Last scene

75On an elevation GIUDITTA, carrying in her hand Holofernes’s great scimitar stained with blood; next to her, ABRAMIA; to her right, ELIACHIMO, in the act of blessing her; and GIONANTA, prostrated, to her left. In the center, Holofernes’s impaled head. HEBREW PEOPLE prostrated nearby, while a group of maidens is bringing garlands and scattering flowers before the heroine.

76Exalted in sublime enthusiasm, accompanied by harps, they strike up the following:

77I.

78On the golden harps a canticle

79Rises in Israel.

80Finally the misfortunes

81Of a cruel servitude will cease:

82Finally the free Motherland

83Will rise again.

84All the way to Solima must echo

85The Hymn to Liberty.

86II.

87You, new Deborah,

88More undefeated than Jael,

89You thrill the people

90That celebrates you, O pious Giuditta.

91Long live your splendid name

92So that to future generations

93She be an Eternal Symbol of

94Liberty.

95III.

96When a people fights

97To liberate its Homeland

98From barbarians

99God fights with it.

100A hero is what a child becomes

101When he runs down into the battlefield

102Against the foreign armies,

103Shouting: Liberty!

104IV.

105O Liberty, generous sigh

106Of every people:

107Where you reign, the sky

108Is limpid, and the soil is in bloom:

109Because of your virtue

110Love and pity germinate ...

111To live or to die for you

112Is beautiful, O Liberty!

113(Apotheosis of Giuditta)

114The End

115Giuditta: melodramma biblico in tre atti. Poesia di M. Marcello; musica del maestro Achille Peri. Da rappresentarsi nel Regio Teatro alla Scala nella stagione d’autunno of 1862 (Milano, F. Lucca, 1862, p. 43)

116Scena ultima

117S’incomincia a vedere Betulia rischiarata dal sole. Bandiere spiegate sulla rocca e sulle mura. S’avanzano Guerrieri ebrei guidati da Gionata, ed infine il popolo guidato da Pontefice.

118Coro. Spento è Oloferne !...

119Fuggono i barbari oppressor !

120Giuditta col crine disciolto

121E la veste macchiata di sangue

122Giu. Gia splende il quinto sol.

123Tutti. ...Giuditta ! Salva !....

124Giu. E questa mano ancor di sangue intrisa

125Il patto che giurò fida ha serbato.

126Tutti. Un popolo che langue :

127Di vil servaggio l’onta

128Degl’oppressor col sangue

129Solo lavar potrà.

130Giu. Della grand’opra al Ciel si deve il vanto,

131A Dio prostrati al suol sciogliate il canto.

132(Tutti s’inginocchiano, meno Giuditta ed il Pontefice)

133Coro. Sia gloria al dio possente

134Ch’ebbe di noi pietà.

135Risorga più splendente

136Il sol di libertà.

137Fine

138Giuditta: A Biblical Melodrama in Three Acts. Lyrics by M. Marcello; music by maestro Achille Peri. To be staged at the Royal Theater La Scala in Milan during the autumn season of 1862 (Milan, F. Lucca, 1862, p. 43 / my translation)

139Last scene

140Bethulia, illuminated by the sun, is gradually becoming visible. Banners unfurled on the rock and on the wall.

141Guided by Giuditta, Hebrew soldiers advance, and towards the rear, people guided by the Pontiff.

142Chorus. Holophernes is dead!...

143Barbarian Oppressors are fleeing!

144Giuditta with her hair undone

145And her dress stained with blood

146Giu. Already, the sun of the fifth day is rising.

147All. . . .Giuditta! Safe!...

148Giu. And this hand, still drenched in blood,

149Stayed faithful to the pact I had sworn.

150All. A people that languishes

151Will only be able to wipe out

152The insult of the oppressor

153Only with blood.

154Giu. We owe to Heaven the merit of the great deed,

155Prostrate yourselves on the ground, raise a song to God.

156(They all kneel down, except Giuditta and the Pontiff)

157Chorus. Glory be to God almighty

158Who took pity on us.

159Rise again more shining

160The sun of liberty.

161The End.

162Giacometti, Paolo, Giuditta in idem,

163Teatro [a cura di E. Buonaccorsi, p. 330)

164Giuditta […] Dio e patria son uno, son tutto

165Per noi figli d’un Nume verace,

166Non vi è patria se l’ara è mendace,

167Vile è il popol che muta la fé.

168Oh fratelli ! una gente infedele

169Non calpesti le sante contrade,

170Dio vi guarda, vi affila le spade,

171Io Giuditta a guidarvi verrò.

172Or vi lascio – nessuno mi segua;

173Sola riedo all’ostello natio,

174Ho compiuta la legge di Dio,

175Dritto alcuno agli omaggi non ho.

176(Coperta del suo mantello nero s’incammina lentamente, e seguita da Abramia, sale la montagna, mentre tutti silenziosi la guardano, compresi di meraviglia e di ammirazione. Quando è scomparsa dietro alle rupi, tutti s’inginocchiano ai piedi della montagna, e cala la tenda.)

177Giacometti, Paolo, Giuditta in idem, Teatro [ed. Buonaccorsi, p. 330 / my translation)

178Giuditta [...] God and the Homeland are one, they are everything

179For us, sons of a true Deity,

180There is no Homeland if the altar is untrue,

181The people that veers from its faith is vile.

182Oh brothers! An unfaithful people

183Must not trample on the sacred lands,

184God takes care of you, he sharpens your swords,

185I, Giuditta, will come to lead you.

186Now I leave you – let nobody follow me;

187Lonely I return to the native abode,

188I have completed God’s will,

189I have no right to homage.

190(Covered by her black coat she slowly sets off, and, followed by Abramia, climbs the mountain, while all the others silently look at her, filled with amazement and admiration. When she has disappeared behind the rocks, they all kneel down at the foot of the mountain, and the curtain falls.)

191Giuditta: tragedia lirica in quattro atti. Posta in musica dal sig. Maestro Emilio Cianchi e fatta eseguire per la seconda volta le ultime tre sere di carnevale 1860 nella chiesa delle Scuole Pie dalla Congregazione di Maria SS. Addolorata E.S. Giuseppe Calasanzio (Firenze, dalla tip. Calasanziana, 1860, p. 32)

192Scena V

193GIUDITTA seguita da ZELFA, e detti.

194Giud. Ho vinto !

195L’Assiro duce per mia mano è spento :

196All’orrendo spettacolo di sangue

197Compreso di sgomento

198Tutto il campo sarà. – Fia lieve a noi,

199Dal divino favor resi più forti,

200Fra le rie tende seminar le morti.

201Coro ed Ozia. La salvatrice tua,

202Betulia, onora…

203Laudi a Giuditta!

204Giud. Non a me, soltanto

205Dell’ardua impresa a Dio si deve il vanto!

206Ei solo il braccio mio

207Ei possente rendea !...Sien laudi a Dio !

208Nel riso suo più splendido

209(Spuntano i primi raggi del sole)

210Il sole… ecco si mostra !...

211Zel. E Coro. Astro, risplendi e illumina

212Or la vittoria nostra.

213Giuditta: A Lyrical Tragedy in Four Acts. Set to music by Maestro Emilio Cianchi and performed for the second time during the last three nights of the Carnival of 1860 in the Church of the Pious Schools of Maria SS. Addolorata E.S. Giuseppe Calasanzio’s Congregation (Florence, Printing house Calasanziana, 1860, p. 32 / my translation)

214Scene V

215GIUDITTA followed by ZELFA, and those mentioned above.

216Giuditta. Victory is mine!

217The Assyrian leader is dead by my hand:

218The whole camp will be drenched in dismay

219At the horrible sight of blood. – Rendered stronger by divine favor,

220May our task be light: to spread out the dead

221Amid the evil camp

222Chorus and Ozia. Let honor your savior, Bethulia . . .

223Praise be to Giuditta!

224Giud. Not to me, to God only

225Is due the merit of the arduous feat!

226He only strengthened my arm!

227God be glorified!

228In his mirth more magnificent

229(the first rays of the sun are rising)

230The sun... Look it is appearing!...

231Zel. and Chorus. Oh star, shine

232bright now and shine upon our victory.

233Tutti. Come il tuo raggio, ardenti

234Noi piomberem sull’empio :

235A consumar lo scempio,

236Muovi men ratto, o Sol.

237Se per si lungo strazio

238Lassi, Signor, siam noi,

239Scendan le schiere, ah scendano

240De’Cherubini tuoi,

241Ed al portento attonite

242Apprendano le genti,

243O Nume di Betulia,

244Ad adorar Te sol !

245Fine

246All. As your ray does, ardently we will fall

247Upon the impious:

248To commit the massacre,

249Move slower, O Sun.

250Oh Lord, if we are tired

251Of such enduring torture,

252Come down the ranks

253Of your Cherubs, ah come down

254And stupefied by the miracle,

255The people learn, O God of Bethulia

256To worship only you!

257The End.

Notes

1 Throughout this study, translations – of books, newspaper articles, or libretti – are my own unless otherwise stated. I would like to express my most sincere thanks to Tul’si Bhambry for her help in these translations and patient support as a friend. Gazzetta dei teatri, 27 March 1860.

2 La Perseveranza stresses that children, ”while having read it in the sacred volume as well as admired it in the illustrations or in the famous painting of Horace Vernet, will also remember, as grown-ups, having seen it in puppet theaters, with Arlequin, who held the bag, and the tremendous wooden head of Holofernes, who in his greatly disturbed eye sockets moves his mechanical pupils.” (La Perseveranza, 28 March 1860.)

3 ”Judith […] is thought to be unfit to assume melodramatic forms and musical format” (ibid.).

4 Ibid. The newspapers counted between ten and twenty curtain calls for the composer.

5 Gazzetta di Milano, 27 March 1860.

6 See the text in the appendix.

7 I reproduce here the concise and relevant definition that Alberto Mario Banti has given of the Risorgimento (1796–1870): ”the Risorgimento must be considered as a politico-cultural process that is based on the idea of the Nation and that has the construction of an Italian state as a goal.” Alberto Mario Banti, Il Risorgimento italiano (Roma and Bari: Laterza, 2004), pp. x–xi.

8 Gazzetta dei teatri, 2 December 1859.

9 La Perseveranza, 15 August 1859.

10 Charlotte Corday was the murderess of the French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. For her defenders she embodies the struggle against oppression. Thus, in 1797, the anti-revolutionary play Charlotte Corday ou la Judith moderne constitutes the first work to introduce a comparison between the murderesses of Marat and of Holofernes, making a Holofernes of Marat and a Judith of Corday, and identifying the Hebrew with the royalists persecuted by the republicans. Several years later, the parallel between Corday and Judith reappears, in a more balanced manner, in Lamartine’s Histoire de Charlotte Corday.

11 Paolo Giacometti, Teatro, ed. Eugenio Buonaccorsi (Genoa: Costa & Nolan, 1983), p. 330.

12 La Perseveranza, 28 March 1860.

13 Carlotta Sorba, ”Il 1848 e la melodrammatizzazione della politica,” in A. M. Banti and P. Ginsborg (eds.), Storia d’Italia. 22: Il Risorgimento (Torino: Einaudi, 2007), pp. 481–508.

14 See Domenico Buffa on Austrian people and the description used in the proclamation to the Bolognese priests and Italians of 2 August 1848, both quoted in Carlotta Sorba, ”Il 1848,” p. 499.

15 These words bring to mind Costanza d’Azeglio’s assertion: ”they are no longer men, they are wild beasts.”

16 Alberto Mario Banti, L’onore della nazione: identita sessuali e violenza nel nazionalismo europeo dal XVIII secolo alla grande guerra (Torino: Einaudi, 2005).

17 Sorba, ”Il 1848,” p. 502. Sorba stresses that the collective oath was borrowed from the stage by the nationalists. Two very famous examples are the oath in Verdi’s La Battaglia di Legnano (The Battle of Legnano) and the one related by Giuseppe Montanelli in his Memorie sull’Italia e specialmente sulla Toscana dal 1814 al 1853. Both can be found in Sorba, ”Il 1848.”

18 In this aria sung by Giuditta, the discourse of the Risorgimento on sacrifice merges with the operatic discourse that makes the sacrificial dimension a major characteristic of the Romantic heroine.

19 Banti stresses that ”self-sacrifice, in the Christian tradition and in the re-elaborations realized by the political religions of the nineteenth century” allows one to justify ”defeat, pain, and bereavement and possesses a function of testimony toward the community.” Banti, L’onore della nazione, p. 152.

20 Ibid.

21 See these two texts in the Appendix.

22 The plural used here is due to poetic considerations.

23 ”Preghiera alla Vergine,” Pistoia, 1848, quoted in Enrico Francia, ”Clero e religione nel lungo Quarantotto italiano,” in Storia d’Italia: 22, pp. 436–37.

24 Quoted in Francia, ”Clero e religione,” p. 446.

25 Simonetta Chiappini, ”La voce della martire. Dagli ’evirati cantori’ all’eroina romantica,” in Storia d’Italia: 22, p. 315. See also Martine Lapied, ”La mort de l’héroïne, apothéose de l’opéra romantique,” in Régis Bertrand, Anne Carol, and Jean-Noël Pelen (eds.), Les narrations de la mort (Aix-en-Provence: Publications de l’Université de Provence, 2005). Another Romantic heroine is an exception to the rule: Odabella in Verdi’s Attila (1846). This quarrelsome virgin makes a reference to the biblical heroine:

ODABELLA
Foresto, do you remember
Judith who saved Israel?
[…] Odabella swore to the Lord
To renew the story of Judith
[…] Look, it is the sword of the monster.
This is the Lord’s will!
[…] Valor mounts in my breast!
(”Attila libretto e guida all’opera,” ed. by Attila Marco Marica, Programma di sala [2004] http://www.teatrolafenice.it/public/libretti/58_2246attila_gv.pdf, 28 [11 April 2008].)

26 Niccolò Tommaseo, La donna. Scriti vari (Milan, 1872, first edition 1833), quoted in Simonetta Chiappini, ”La voce del martire. Dagli ’evirati cantori’ all’eroina romantica,” p. 315.

27 Banti, L’onore della nazione, p. 229.

28 Ibid.

29 This evokes the leaders of the Italian independence denouncing the cowardice of the inhabitants of the Italian peninsula. As Christopher Duggan emphasizes, the task of the Risorgimento was not only to secure a territorial independence but, more fundamentally, to banish from the population such vices as subservience and lack of martial ardor. Christopher Duggan, The Force of Destiny. A History of Italy since 1796 (London: Penguin Books, 2008), p. xvii.

30 The expression is used by the Italian historian Michela di Giorgio.

31 Niccolò Tommaseo, La Donna, scritti vari, quoted in Michela de Giorgio, ”La bonne catholique,” in G. Fraisse and M. Perrot (eds.), Histoire des femmes en Occident, IV. Le xixème siècle (Paris: Perrin, 2002), p. 209.

32 Silvana Patriarca has stressed an ”intimate convergence between nationalism and the new sexual morality.” Silvana Patriarca, ”Indolence and Regeneration: Tropes and Tensions of Risorgimento Patriotism,” The American Historical Review, April 2005; http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/110.2/patriarca.html (accessed 10/4/08).

33 A striking example of the rejection of women from the public sphere is given by a journalist of the Corriere delle Dame, who evokes, before making his review of Giuditta, the debate about women’s right to vote:

Isn’t it true, my Ladies, that these days you have envied us men for our right to vote? […] But where would moderation and concord go, if among the skinny trousered legs and the wretched frac, the bouillonnées dress and the voluminous crinolines would approach the ballot-box? […] We, poor pilots of the human genre, would completely lose our bearings […] We promise you that all codes, all laws will be made in your benefit […] we will give a greater value and at the same time greater recognition and greater credit to your amiability, to the kindness, to the good taste and to the strongest and more precious endowments of which the three just mentioned are the brilliant gloss. (Corriere delle Dame, 30 March 1860)

34 Giacometti, Teatro, p. 263.

35 Judith’s final triumph at the price of the supreme transgression, i.e., of the murder of a man, has frequently implied her ”virilization.” See Jacques Poirier, Judith: échos d’un mythe biblique dans la littérature française (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004), pp. 98–102 (‘‘La guerre des sexes’’).

36 Quoted in Geneviève Dermenjian and Jacques Guilhaumou, ”Le ’crime héroïque’ de Charlotte Corday,” in G. Dermenjian, J. Guilhaumou, and M. Lapied (eds.), Le Panthéon des femmes: figures et représentation des héroïnes (Paris: Publisud, 2004), p. 149.

37 La Perseveranza, 28 March 1860.

38 Quoted in .......Banti, L’onore della nazione, p. 5.

39 Anne Eriksen, ”Etre ou agir ou le dilemme de l’héroïne,” in P. Centlivres, D. Fabre, and F. Zonabend (eds.), La fabrique des héros (Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1998).

40 Between the performance of March 1860 and that of 1862, a peace treaty had been signed between France and Austria (11 July 1860). At the close of the plebiscites and of the conquest of the south by Garibaldi’s army in 1860, Victor Emmanuel II had been officially proclaimed King of Italy on 14 March 1861. The Venetian and Roman questions, linked to the diplomatic relationships with France, would not be resolved for several years. This probably explains the disappearance of the nationalistic dimension in the 1862 version of Giuditta.

41 In 1862, the famous figure of the Risorgimento led an expedition against Rome – at that time under the papal rule – to complete the process of unification. But Garibaldi’s troops were defeated by the Italian army – the new Italian state was opposed to this expedition – and Garibaldi was arrested, prosecuted, and put in jail.

42 Joncières denounces a treacherous Dalila whose voice ”hypocritically affectionate, add[s] charm to the troubling song of the seductive courtesan.” Victorin Joncières, ”Revue musicale,” La Liberté (21 June 1897). Quoted in Jann Pasler’s analysis of the adaptations of the Judith narrative in French dramatic music in this volume.

Auteur

Alexandre Lhâa is a PhD student at the History Department of the University of Provence and member of the TELEMME research unit, in Aix-en-Provence (France). In June 2008, he attended the International Symposium Ottoman Empire & European Theatre, in Istanbul. His most recent conference papers include ”Exotisme et violence sur la scène du Teatro alla Scala” and ”Ho introdotto un leggiero cambiamento nell’argomento: Les tragédies antiques adaptées à La Scala (1784–1823).”