The Victim of Love

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St. Mary’s Church
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Corpus Christi Church
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“A group of four silken-toned string players shared in the melodic bounty, and a continuo … wove ever-changing textures in support. In fact, the whole performance seemed tailored to the present moment, as it breathed melodious life into a dusty manuscript that had waited 300 years to be so up-to-date.” —New York Classical Review

cast: Andrew Leslie Cooper, Madeline Healey, Corey Shotwell
directors: Jeremy Rhizor, Tony Lopresti
guest speaker: Charles Weaver
genres: sacred drama, oratorio, biblical drama, Baroque music, Italian music, Italian-language libretto

This season, music director Jeremy Rhizor teams up with movement director Tony Lopresti to create a comprehensive and totally original visual and listening experience. In “The Victim of Love”, they combine a fervent 17th-century oratorio, Gianettini’s La vittima d’amore, ossia La morte di Cristo in a modern-day premiere, a lecture at its midpoint, and a reception after the performance. The oratorio’s text is melancholy: it expresses the pain of Mary and St. John as they accept the necessary sacrifice of Jesus.

The recreation of this forgotten masterpiece was made possible by a new edition based on the 1704 manuscript in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek transcribed and edited by Jeremy Rhizor and Leili Zhang. Additionally, a new English translation was written by Lucy Yates based on the 1690 and 1695 printed libretti in Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena.

The Academy of Sacred Drama’s oratorio performances move beyond passive entertainments to engaging experiences of cultural value through the organization’s rediscovery of forgotten musical treasures, restoration of historical performance formats, and unification of high-quality music-making with social and intellectual exploration. Believed to be the modern premiere of Antonio Gianettini’s La vittima d’amore, the Academy’s February 2020 performances will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the revival of this masterful full-scale work in a format that parallels its premiere.

Far from being a fringe activity of Baroque creativity, the creation of sacred-themed libretti and the performance of oratorios was a cultural pillar of the Italian Baroque. Musicologist Norbert Dubowy observed, “No one ever saw as many Alexander the Greats and Neros as Davids and Jephthes.” The new stile rappresentativo did not directly reach the majority of Italy through the secular entertainments of aristocratic courts and the spectacles of Venetian opera. Rather, it found its way to most people by replacing or supplementing music, dialogues, and dramas that accompanied sacred festivals throughout the year.

Many oratorios were performed in various forms over the course of decades. Whether their creation or performance was sponsored by a local trade guild, a confraternity (a pious association of laypeople), members of the episcopate, or noblemen, many libretti and oratorio scores had lives beyond a single performance. Some circulated regionally and, in several cases, libretti and scores made their way across the Alps to the other courts and cultural centers of the European continent. Well over a thousand oratorios were performed throughout Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and yet only a handful are remembered in today’s popular consciousness.

One of the shining lights of the oratorio repertoire is the composer Antonio Gianettini (1648–1721). Though almost entirely forgotten today both by musicians and listeners, at one time he was one of the most talented and respected composers of his generation. In 1686, at approximately 38 years old, Gianettini became the maestro di cappella of the Duke of Modena’s court. He had previously held positions as an organist at the prestigious church of San Marco in Venice and had sung bass in that choir. His musical training was administered by musicians of note, and he had composed for prominent personalities such as the Marquis of Ferrara and the Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg. His output prior to his Modenese appointment also included six operas for the Ventian stage. After he became maestro di capella in Modena, he returned frequently to Venice to find singers for the extensive Modenese oratorio season.

In 1690, early in his illustrious career in Modena, Gianettini wrote music to a libretto by Francesco Torti (1658–1741) producing an oratorio for three voices called La vittima d’amore, osia La morte di Cristo. This Passion oratorio presents a dialogue between Cristo Nostro Signore (castrati), Maria Vergine (soprano), and S. Giovanni (tenor) that emphasizes the pain of Mary and St. John in accepting the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the universal implications of that sacrifice. The first half of the oratorio occurs prior to Christ’s crucifixion and depicts Mary and St. John asking Jesus to let one of them take his place. The discussion around Christ’s refusal sheds light on the nature of his sacrifice. In the second half, Christ ascends upon the Altar of the Cross and his nature is described as victim, priest, altar, and God. The oratorio ends with the biblical sequence of Christ’s final moments on the cross followed by a commentary by a chorus of Angels.

In 1688, only two years before, the Modenese Lenten oratorio season was one of the very best in Baroque Italy. That year Gianettini had written another oratorio with three voices, La creatione de’ magistrati, which merited a repeat performance in Modena in 1696. La vittima d’amore was also performed in Modena for a second time in 1695 with some modifications. The Academy of Sacred Drama’s performance is based on a 1704 manuscript that ended up in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Austria. Surprisingly, this later musical manuscript is based on the earlier edition of the libretto.

La vittima d’amore as well as La creatione de’ magistrati are examples of the excellent oratorios that had lives beyond an initial performance and even beyond the borders of the land of their premieres. By taking part in their revival (the Academy presented the modern premiere of La creatione de’ magistrati last year), we are privileged to encounter the well-crafted theological and musical language of an earlier age and build a greater understanding of both the musical and human landscape of Baroque Italy.

Directors, Musicians, and Guest Speaker

Jeremy Rhizor, music director and violin
Tony Lopresti, movement director
Charles Weaver, guest speaker

Andrew Leslie Cooper, Cristo Nostro Signore (countertenor)
Madeline Healey, Maria Vergine (soprano)
Corey Shotwell, S. Giovanni (tenor)

Lewis Baratz, recorder
Chloe Fedor, violin
Dan McCarthy, viola
Arnie Tanimoto, cello
Joshua Stauffer, theorbo
Marc Bellassai, harpsichord
Parker Ramsay, organ

Program Information
La vittima d’amore, osia La morte di Cristo (1690)
composer: Antonio Gianettini* (1648–1721)
librettist: Francesco Torti (1658–1741)

Edition based on the 1704 manuscript in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
edition: Jeremy Rhizor and Leili Zhang

Translation based on 1690 and 1695 printed libretti in Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena
translation: Lucy Yates

Program Order
First Half of Oratorio
Contextual Lecture by Charles Weaver
Intermission
Second half of Oratorio
Reception

*The composer’s last name is also spelled Giannettini, Zanettini, and Zannettini.