Passio Caeciliae

Barbara Vignudelli soprano

David Sebasti narrator

Nova Amadeus Chamber Orchestra

Flavio Emilio Scogna

The original text of the Passio Caeciliae relates the martyrdom of Cecilia, the daughter of a noble Roman family who, according to tradition, was put to death in her own home at the end of the 2nd century AD. Elements of history and legend interweave to create a tale in which the virginity and innocence of Cecilia, along with her faith and love for the poor, capture the heart of Valeriano, her husband. Through Cecilia he is introduced to Christianity, baptized, and embraces chastity and martyrdom. Cecilia is a creature of light and love, a masterpiece of innocence and youth imbued with heavenly scent. Her martyrdom is terrible, yet it embodies her most beautiful love song to Christ.

The sacred cantata consists of nine scenes that describe Cecilia’s progress through earthly and mystical events, as narrated by the early Passio Caeciliae. The introduction is a ‘Cantantibus organis’, the ancient antiphon of the Vespers of the solemnity of martyrdom, containing a description of Cecilia’s mystical marriage. This is followed by ‘The Wedding’, which relates Cecilia’s earthly nuptials with Valeriano. The young woman reveals to her husband her desire to devote herself to the total love of Christ, as well as the daily visit that she receives from a mysterious angel. Next comes a choral piece, ‘Psalm 45’, a magnificent regal epithalamium describing the marriage of the King of Israel to a young queen from a distant land. This turns into a quasi—serenade, presented to Cecilia by the angel. The fourth scene depicts ‘The Baptism’ of the young Valeriano, persuaded to convert by Cecilia’s words and innocence, and only after his baptism can Valeriano see the brightly winged Angel. What follows is a tremendous persecution that is unleashed on the Christians of Rome, and on Valeriano and Cecilia in particular. The young man and his brother are

killed, while Cecilia exhorts the martyrs to be true to their faith to the very last in the ‘Eia milites Christi’ (‘Have courage, soldiers of Christ”). At this point Cecilia’s martyrdom begins; three strokes with the sword are not enough to kill her, and for three days she hovers between life and death. ‘Lux in tenebris lucet’ testifies to the light that shines through the shadows as the young woman sings of her love through her own death. The cantata ends with a sweet berceuse that portrays Cecilia as she falls asleep in Christ, singing of her love for Him. This image recalls Stefano Maderno’s famous marble sculpture in the Basilica of Saint Cecilia in Rome, created when her body was exhumed in 1599 and found to be uncorrupted by the ravages of time. This is a song that soars above earthly matters, an expression of all living creatures illuminated by the beauty of Love.

© Marco Frisina

Translation: Kate Singleton

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 17 March 2012

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