Spotlight on the Netherlands: Marco Marazzoli–La Vita Humana

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Program: #07-08   Air Date: Feb 12, 2007

One of the two massive reconstructions for the Festival was the operatic oratorio by Marco Marazzoli written for Queen Christina of Sweden, after her stunning conversion to Catholicism; we'll hear a performance by the ensemble Le Poeme Harmonique.

We will also direct listeners to their web site, which will provide more in-depth information about the music and performers we hear as well as more information about the festival (

For its 25th anniversary, the entire 2006 Festival was dedicated to the early Italian 17th century.

We continue our long and fruitful association with our partners at Radio Netherlands in presenting a series of concerts from the 2006 Holland Festival of Early Music at Utrecht.

NOTE: All of the music on this program was performed by the ensemble Le Poeme Harmonique conducted by Vincent Dumestre. It is dedicated to one work, the vast opera/oratorio by Marco Marazzoli (c.1602/5-1662),La Vita humana ovvero Il trionfo della pieta. As the program notes:

The conversion of Queen Christina of Sweden was a welcome surprise for the Counter-Reformation. With her embrace of Catholicism, she turned her back on the Protestant empire which her father Gustav II had so painstakingly conquered, giving the Catholic clerics a golden opportunity to show the success of their efforts by welcoming Christian to Rome in the grandest way possible.

Her entry into the mother church was given added luster with many grand receptions and several operas. For her baptism in Antwerp, she asked for a reprise of Zamponi's Ulisse nel'Isola di Circe (originally for the marriage of Philip IV). In Innsbruck, at the Hapsburg court where Christina attended masses for the first time, Antonio Cesti composed L'Argia in her honor. And finally, in Rome, the winter of 1655/6 was entirely devoted to the illustriuous convert, that opera season dubbed "carnevale della regina." On Jan. 31st, the premiere of La Vita humana ovvero Il trionfo della pieta was held in the Teatro alle Quattro Fontane at the Palazzo Barberini, with room for 3000 spectators.

The Barberinis had come to power during the reign of their Pope Maffeo as Urban VIII; at the same time Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi became well known for his literary efforts. He combined the Spanish theatrical tradition with the Italian commedia and created a new genre. While La vita humana was written as a sacra rappresentazione (a genre already out of fashion), in this work the questions of life are presented by easily recognizable personae.

Human life (Vita humana) struggles with the choice between the pleasures of the world on the one hand and a devout life an heavenly bliss on the other. Engravings from the time reveal the original staging: the first scene shows two robust fortresses representing each camp, with Vita's narrow and winding path in between. Special effects were used in the second act as Vita enters the garden of Pleasure where a fragrant cart of flowers gives off a beautiful scent and a fountain spouts real water...and, of course, there were fireworks at the end.

As was expected, Christina is honored in the opera's prologue, but Rospigliosi added another clever homage--when Vita longs for Pleasure, Innocence conjures up the image of St. Birgitta of Sweden, who came to Rome in 1349 and founded a religious order. The spectacle was not wasted on the guest of honor; after the public premiere, she asked for a second (private) performance, and just days later name Marco Marazzoli her musica da camera. And her friendship with Rospigliosi would lead to the founding of the first public opera house in Rome, the Tor di Nona.

MARCO MARAZZOLI (c.1602/5-1662): La Vita humana ovvero Il trionfo della pieta.

HUMANA: Claire Lefilliatre, s.
INNOCENZA: Camille Poul, s.
COLPA: Isabelle Druet, mz.
INTENDIMENTO: Jean-Francois Lombard, a.
PIACERE: Arnaud Marzorati, b.

Le Choeur de Chambre de Rouen
Le Poeme Harmonique

Vincent Dumestre, conductor.

Composer Info

Marco Marazzoli (c.1602/5-1662),

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