Oratorio in seven scenes and two parts, with a prologue and epilogue from the Apocalypse of St John, for two actors, mixed choir, children’s choir, and wind and percussion orchestra.
Libretto and music Marcello Panni
Conductor Marcello Panni
Comment H.E., the Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi
Actors Andrea Giordana, Sonia Bergamasco
Orchestra Italian Military Band
Mixed Choir Goffredo Petrassi Chamber Chorus
Children’s Choir Piccolo Coro Romano
Sound Sculpture Yuri Kalendarev
Commissioned by the
Spoleto52 Festival dei 2Mondi
The text of the Oratorio Apokàlypsis is based on extracts from the book of the Apocalypse of St. John, the last and most mysterious book of the Bible. The choice of these particular verses was based upon the suggestions of the greatest scholars and experts on Sacred Scriptures, H.E. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi.
Based on his advice, I composed a libretto for a modern “rappresentazione sacra” or religious play with two actors, a man and a woman who recite the verses in Italian, alternating with one another and, at certain points, taking precedence over the background music of the orchestra and the choir. The choir, meanwhile, sings the same lines in Latin, though in other sections it sings in French, English, German, or Spanish and, in the finale, in Greek, the language in which the Apocalypse was probably diffused in the initial centuries of Christianity.
The Vision of St. John is full of references to music: The seven trumpets and the harps play several times, in harmony with the angelic choirs and the Ancients in adoration before the Holy Lamb, to say nothing of the resounding natural clamour of the tempest, the thunder, and the blazing flames.
How is it possible to give life to this gigantic resounding vision? How is it possible to embody such musical instruments, seen so often in magnificent frescoes?
I began with a range of choices: I symbolically adopted the number seven as the rhythmic and structural basic element of the music. For are the notes in the scale not seven? And do the heavens not number seven as well, as they revolve around the Earth to produce the Harmony of the Spheres? Seven is also the number of scenes, like huge tableaux vivants that form the oratorio. With the prologue and the epilogue, the sections total nine (another magic number, the three squared; in other words, the Trinity raised to the power of two!)
But the most difficult aspect was to choose the harmonic and melodic style for such a complex text. Deciding to abandon a technological Apocalypse with electronic and special film effects (which would have been the obvious solution), I chose a far more austere interpretation that drew its inspiration more from a shamanic ritual: the forces of primitive sacredness, some ancient ceremony lost in time, with elements of folklore inspired by the thirty-seven enormous medieval tapestries depicting the Apocalypse in the Cathedral and Castle of Angers, which I have known and loved for many years, woven for the Cathedral’s most important ceremonies.
As the main theme I decided to adopt shamanic music that has its origins in South America, grafting this basic theme onto an evocation of medieval contrapoint (motetus, conductus, organum) and Gregorian solmization. The harmony is harsh and dissonant, based on the tones of so-called “defective” scales (that is, a polytone in which one or more tones is missing) that are typical of South American native music. If I were to provide a comparable reference, I would suggest The Creation of the World and the Death of a Tyrant by Darius Milhaud or Laborintus II by his pupil and my mentor, Luciano Berio.
The Italian Military Band will deploy its forces with forty-five wind instruments, including an enormous pipe organ, with the addition of four percussionists (45 + 4 = 49 in other words, 7 to the power of 7) which will evoke rhythm and sound, both religious and secular.
The twenty-eight voice choir (7x 4) is once again divided according to the text between twenty-four Ancients and the four living creatures (Eagle, Ox, Angel and the Lion) which formed the group in adoration of the Holy Lamb.
From time to time, the choir will perform as a procession, or danzante, as an echo to the actors’ voices, or in order to provide a strong, thundering sound.
The Goffredo Petrassi Chamber choir is joined by the Piccolo Coro Romano (children’s choir) to contribute the purity of treble voices to the angelic moments.
The Russian sculptor Yuri Kalendarev also performs in the production. Kalendarev is the creator of a range of impressive sound sculptures that make an important contribution to the percussion section.
Two actors read the text. The male voice is dedicated to the visionary text, while the female is concentrated in the sections marked by the conquest of the dragon (first finale) and the descent of Heavenly Jerusalem (second finale).
Before each section, in the form of an Introduction and an Intermezzo, H.E Archbishop Ravasi will give the public a short personal explanation of the symbolic content of the text by St. John.