Sunday, May 22, 2016

Le Reniement de Saint Pierre

La Feste de Ruel is an opera -- technically a pastoral, since it concerns shepherds in the fields -- but it is less than an hour long. We will therefore pair it with another work by Charpentier.

You've got the wrong guy
Le Reniement de Saint Pierre (The Denial of St. Peter) is an oratorio (although some call it a motet.) An oratorio is the telling of a story from scripture using chorus and soloists. And it’s a big deal, because the French did NOT write oratorios. Remember how Lully declared himself free of all foreign influence, but Charpentier proudly displayed the musical education he had received in Italy? A perfect example of this difference is in the Italian-style oratorios Charpentier wrote. He was a master of it, and loved the form. He was alone in this work, though, and the French oratorio died with him.

Never even heard of him
This episode is beloved of artists of all kinds. It tells of a moment immediately after Jesus' arrest. Peter lurks on the grounds of the government building, hoping for word. Among the bystanders gathering around a fire, he is recognized as being an associate of the of the accused. First a woman, then a man, point their fingers and draw the attention of the crowd, while Peter resolutely denies he has ever even met Jesus. Three times he states what he knows to be more than a lie, but a betrayal. Good-hearted, overzealous but well-intentioned Peter, Jesus' rock -- even he has a moment of monumental weakness. Jesus knew it was coming, perhaps because he knew that all humans have a sliver of imperfection inside, but Peter is horrified to learn this truth about himself.

Many consider this particular oratorio to be Charpentier's greatest. Using bits from the various gospels, he pieces together a story of astonishing emotional drama. The accusations around the fire grow in intensity,
I'm telling you I don't know the man!
Peter’s denials become ever more frenzied, at the climax everyone is singing over each other – and then in the release of tension following the rooster's cry, all that remains is Peter’s bitter weeping. 

This piece is well-known, but Catacoustic will be performing a newly reconstructed score with instrumental music that has never been performed before.

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