Last week our neighbor invited Lauren and I to attend a performance by Teatro Nuovo at the fabulous Gothic, Episcopal Church of The Heavenly Rest on 5th of a restoration of a symphony by Donizetti and Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” (“The mother was standing”).
It had been a hot day so it was wonderful to arrive at the church and be welcomed into cool shade. We were lucky to hear introductory remarks by Mr. Gabriel Dotto, a scholar of Italian opera.
I was unacquainted with Donizetti, but found this symphonic piece to be very compelling and remarkably well-done. The fourth movement had not had its orchestration completed and, as part of the revival, was restored by scholar and our maestro, Will Crutchfield.
The subsequent piece, the devotional poem, “Stabat Mater” immediately had my interest because I was excited about hearing some Latin performed. Furthermore, it promised to deliver a heap of those sorrow-and-blood-cult lyrics from Middle Ages Catholicism.
ASIDE Christianity is really fascinating when you look at other blood-magic and sky-god religions around in the area at the same time. The Sky God had a son that became flesh whose body and blood must be ingested lest the Sky God shun you from reward. Toss in the Catholic stories of earthly Mary’s suffering as a proxy for the Sky-God’s Son’s Pain (which gives her power as an intercessor) your’e back to so very primal storytelling.
In any case, the poem did not fail to deliver. We open up with the pain and gore of Christian liturgy:
Stabat Mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius
Cuius animam gementem
Contristatam et dolentem
I did feel as though being able to read the material was an edge because my translation of this:
The greiving Mother was standing
weeping across the cross
while the Son was hanging there
The mother, whose groaning heart
pitying and sorrowful
the sword ran through
was a much more literal one than the translation provided in the programs by Fr Edward Caswall which opted for his own poetic interpretation of the material (a translation choice I disagree with).
At the Cross her station keeping
stood the mournful Mother weeping
close to Jesus to the last
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all his bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed
Whoa, whoa, whoa there Fr Caswall. In that first verse there’s no mention of “Jesus” or “station.” Furthermore the word “pendebat” (root word gives us “pendulum”) has an unambiguous meaning summoning the lifelessness (or fresh Death) of the Son. But it makes no appearance in Caswall. I thought that the weight of the piece was ill-served by this translation. It doesn’t help that you can basically read Caswalls translation to the meter of “The Raven.”
We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and OperaWire ran a favorable review.