Operas about saints
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Last night (November 22, 2017) StimsonInRehab, referring to Saint Cecilia, wrote:
    And, of course, who could forget the opera about Our Girl, written by Padre Refice? Absolutely the best opera ever written about a saint.

    I had not heard of Licinio Refice’s opera Cecilia (1934). I listened to two scenes from the opera at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgJXYiGlpXs Claudia Muzio’s singing was very moving. The music reminded me of Puccini.

    But is it really “the best opera ever written about a saint”?

    What about Olivier Messiaen’s Saint François d'Assise?

    And, although not treating a canonized saint, there’s Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street.

    And there has been discussion on this forum (https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/12205/saint-giovanni-pierluigi-da-palestrina/p1) about how great it would be should Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina be canonized. So we may one day be able to add Hans Pfitzner’s Palestrina.

    There’s also the painter Matthias Grünewald. He is commemorated as an artist and saint by the Lutheran Church on April 6, along with Dürer and Cranach. Paul Hindemith based his 1938 opera Mathis del Maler on the life of Grünewald during the German Peasants’ War. Scene six includes a musical depiction of some scenes from Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (in Colmar, France). And that is a superb opera, one of my favorites.

    What other operas treat saints?
  • I'll second the nomination of Palestrina for sainthood -
    followed by Tallis, and CERTAINLY BY BYRD!
    Thanked by 1Choirparts
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Robert Kreutz also composed an opera, Francesco: A Musical Biography of St. Francis of Assisi, during the last years of his life. I first met Bob in 1964 in Denver, and I enjoyed his friendship over the years. Unfortunately, I never heard his opera.

    Kreutz had a large family and he supported them as an engineer with the Gates Rubber Company (now Gates Corporation) in Denver, while composing music at night.

    The marimbist, Dr. Brett Jones, includes a fairly extensive biography of Kreutz in his doctoral dissertation, The Marimba Music of Robert E. Kreutz: A Stylistic Study of the Choral Influences in his Compositions for Marimba:
  • I forgot Dialogue of the Carmelites by Poulenc. That's pretty damn good.

    (I'm trying to remember if these nuns were canonized or not. They should be . . .)
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts includes among the opera's "saints," a few actual ones: St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Jesus, Saint Stephen, Saint Philip, Saint Cecilia.

    Claude Debussy gave us Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien. But it's more in the genre of a play with incidental music than an opera.

    And Father Refice, of Cecilia fame, premiered his second opera in 1938: Margherita da Cortona
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,167
    Messiaen of course wins hands down. There's also Landi's piece with the hellish machines. In the course of reading about Mathis Der Mahler I came across Cecil Gray's The Temptation of St Anthony (1954), rather different I imagine from Robert Wilson's 2003 work.

    And you haven't yet experienced fear if you've never sung a staged Four Saints without a prompter. ("Dead, read, said, bed," no wait, it's...)
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,167
    The other big guns are Wagner (Elizabeth of Hungary in Tannhäuser), Verdi (Giovanna d'Arco, Leo I in Atilla), Tchaikovsky (Orleanskaja deva) and Mussorgsky (Dmitri Ivanovich's offstage miracle in Boris).
  • IdeK
    Posts: 81
    There is, too, Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher , by Paul Claudel and Arthur Honegger.

    Also I once sang in a cantata in honor of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but it seems unlikely that he gets canonized one day.

    The Compiègne Carmelites have been beatified. They actually are secondary patronesses of Paris diocese, and perhaps of the suburbian dioceses around Paris too.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    In reference to Joan of Arc, Richard Einhorn's 1994 Voices of Light, while not an opera, deserves mention. It was inspired by the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The libretto is based on excerpts from a variety of ancient writings, most of it from medieval female mystics. There's more in the notes accompanying the recording on youtube:
    Thanked by 1JonathanLC
  • stulte
    Posts: 267
    To give a serious answer to the OP, one should look at the opera San Ignacio de Loyola by Domenico Zipoli. The Jesuits had a number of very successful mission colonies in South America called the Reductions. These were populated by the Guarani for whose edification the opera was written.


    It can be heard here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ARlTk7UJjbs
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,239
    I wish the Messiaen was performed more often. It required huge forces. Has anyone seen a live performance?
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,167
    Once in Paris, and 7 times in San Francisco. Time for another fix!
  • JL
    Posts: 170
    The two that come to mind for me are John Tavener's Therese and Ildebrando Pizzetti's Assassinio nella cattedrale, whose libretto is a direct translation of T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Thank you, JL. I was not aware of either opera.
  • There is, of course, the infamous “Four Saints in Three Acts” with music by Virgil Thomson and a libretto by Gertrude Stein. It’s not nearly the farcical, incipiently sacrilegious work that those who don’t know it (and its backstory) might assume. Indeed, Stein developed a rather curious but intense devotion to the cult of saints in the 1930s. The opera is musically and verbally analogous to aspects of cubism, with meaning built up from somewhat discontinuous phrases—a process of partial abstraction. It’s a work of great charm, evoking a sense of saints possessing what Stein elsewhere dubbed “everyday life,” as well as an explicit sense of playfulness and aesthetic enjoyment. And where else can one hear of Saint Teresa of Avila’s popularity described thusly: “Nobody visits more than they do visits them, Saint Teresa”. And the Saint herself comments, with recollected fervor during her own saintly garden party, that “There are a great many persons and places near together.”
    Thanked by 1ronkrisman
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 129
    There is a opera "San Giovanni Baptista" by Stradella.

  • I myself have a dream of writing an opera about St. Hildegard one day. She was quite a lady. Wish me luck!
    Thanked by 1JonathanLC
  • Just curious, M123... have you ever sung the chant Mass she composed? I've added it to our repertoire list, but so far haven't had a chance to look it over.
  • I was not aware that she wrote a Mass setting. Could you send me music? Thanks.
  • Sure - I pulled my copy from the Institute website: LINK.
  • JL
    Posts: 170
    The Kyrie is Hildegard's (available in facsimile here). The other parts of that ordinary are taken from motives in others bits of the Symphonia and Ordo.

    (And for the record, I am not at all on board with that b-flat at the beginning. Hildegard is very meticulous with her accidentals, and that one isn't there.)
  • Thanks for pointing out that it is the Kyrie that is her's directly. I'm not familiar with her composition... would she have really used a tri-tone? I suppose that could have been an editing decision to be consistent with similar usage as standard chant composition or perhaps it would have been understood. ??
  • JL
    Posts: 170
    Almost certainly an editing decision. Different performers have read it differently (my ensemble sings the tritone at the beginning, and the flats that occur later); in my experience the Riesencodex had a very careful scribe (most likely Volmar.) Hildegard frequently steps out into weirdo land, but if you go there with her, the result is beautiful.
    Do have a look at the facsimile online if you're interested in this stuff--it's very clear, and the neumes will come easily to you if you are comfortable with modern Gregorian notation.
  • JL
    Posts: 170
    Turns out the link I posted earlier doesn't work. Here's the page address, without my attempt to make a classy little link.


    There is SO MUCH good stuff in there. For myself, I hope I never have a year without a little Hildegard.