Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano


uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...



Program notes  –  Emmanuel Lenten Program

performed March 2013

Hildegard von Bingen, an abbess and visionary, was a prolific composer who wrote highly original pieces to her own texts.  All of these were transmitted to her in ecstatic visions, and were most likely transcribed into manuscript from performance. A characteristic of all of Hildegard's compositions is a large vocal range and generous use of dissonance, which opens up large emotional vistas, reflective of her evocative poetic imagery.  This program offers two antiphons and two responsories, mostly with a lamenting theme. O cruor sanguinis directly references Christ’s Passion as the elements cry out in response to the Crucifixion. Cum erubuerint is a lament for the fall of humanity, redeemed by the Incarnation, while O quam preciosa describes the Incarnation itself. Finally, Rex noster is a lament for the slaughter of innocents by Herod.

Claudio Monteverdi revolutionized the young art of dramatic monody with his iconic Lamento d'Arianna, an excerpt from the opera Arianna that became so popular that it outlasted its original context. Within a decade it became one of the most widely imitated pieces of music of the period and influenced the lament for a further 150 years or more.  When Monteverdi composed his set of sacred pieces, the Selva morale e spirituale, in the early 1630s, he had the Lamento d'Arianna set to a Latin text focusing on the Virgin Mary at the Cross and titled Il Pianto della Madonna. The librettist, not credited, chose to remain as faithful as possible to his secular model.  The resulting piece, therefore, shows us a Virgin utterly distraught by her Son's death – she displays despair, anger, passion, and all of the volatile emotions that Arianna hurls at Theseus after being abandoned on Naxos. The shock of hearing Mary refer to both her Son and God the Father as ‘sponse’  [spouse], and rail against his unfeeling abandonment of her, is only slightly mitigated by the allusion to Gethsemane in her ultimate acceptance of her fate. The overt secularism of its source explains such a portrayal at the hands of a Catholic composer.


© Pamela Dellal