Maddalena ai Piedi di Cristo
Maddalena: Hana Blažíková, soprano
Marta: Heidi Maria Taubert, soprano
Amor Terreno: Markéta Cukrová, alto
Amor Celeste: David Erler, countertenor
Cristo: Tomáš Korínek, tenor
Fariseo: Roman Janál, baritone
Conducted by François Fernandez
The oratorio as a musical form emerged toward the end of the seventeenth century as a kind of "spiritual exercise" encouraged by the Congregazione dell'Oratorio in Rome. The performances took place in oratories (prayer halls) constructed above church naves and were intended to be attractive but edifying entertainments. Then as later, oratorios generally reflected the popular forms and styles of secular music – and in late Renaissance and Baroque Italy, this meant opera, though based on religious rather than mythological and heroic themes. The most prolific composer in this genre was Antonio Caldara (c1670-1736); New Grove lists 43 oratorios (in addition to many operas) and there are probably more that have been lost, written for patrons in his native Venice, Rome, Florence, Mantua, and Vienna.
Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo (Magdalene at the Feet of Christ) was probably written around 1700 in Rome. The tight and cohesive libretto by Lodovici Forni (also used by Bononcini in 1690) is based on Luke 7:36-50, with the addition of Martha from John 11:1-2 and 12:1-4. For dramatic purposes, Forni introduced the figures of Celestial and Earthly Love (representing good and evil) in combat for the soul of Maddalena, whose irresolution and anguish – not reflected in the spare Biblical narrative – are movingly depicted.
The music is conventional for its time. All arias are in da capo form, some small-scale and intimate and scored for continuo only, others expanded and using larger orchestral forces, more flamboyant and operatic in nature. There are only three concerted arias, all duets for Earthly and Celestial Love, and relationships among the characters are explored only in the recitatives, with the arias reflecting a variety of moods and emotions. The instrumental writing is consistently imaginative and expressive, and many of the arias, especially those of Maddalena in the course of her renunciation of worldly pleasures in favour of Jesus, are full of feeling and exceptionally beautiful. Handel probably met Caldara in Rome, and may well have learned something from him; at any rate, the comparison is not at all in Caldara's disfavour.
Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo libretto courtesy of the Andreas Scholl Society.
Caldara was born in Venice (exact date unknown), the son of a violinist. He became a chorister at St Mark's in Venice, where he learned several instruments, probably under the instruction of Giovanni Legrenzi. In 1699 he relocated to Mantua, where he became maestro di cappella to the inept Charles IV, Duke of Mantua, a pensionary of France with a French wife, who took the French side in the War of the Spanish Succession. Caldara left Mantua in 1707, after the French were expelled from Italy, and moved to Barcelona as chamber composer to Charles VI of Austria, the pretender to the Spanish throne, who kept a royal court at Barcelona. There, he wrote some operas that were the first Italian operas to be performed in Spain. He moved on to Rome, becoming maestro di cappella to Francesco Maria Marescotti Ruspoli, 1st Prince of Cerveteri. In 1716 he obtained a similar post at the Imperial Court in Vienna, and there he remained until his death.