Conventions of Prayer in Some 19th-Century Operas

By Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning | Musical Times, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Conventions of Prayer in Some 19th-Century Operas


Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning, Musical Times


IN THIS ESSAY, I propose to look at the way in which liturgical forms have been accommodated on the lyric stage of the 19th century, and also at the musical and textual conventions that have developed in tandem with them. I shall base my typology of these forms on classical rather than Christian models so as to admit some neo-classical preghiere into my study, and also to address those pagan forms of prayer that persisted on the stage of the primo ottocento. One must bear in mind that there is often only a nominal difference between classical and Christian prayer, given the fact that both are predicated on archetypal human postures, and also given the fact that the primitive church made wholesale adaptations of Roman liturgical practices.

Those practices were categorised in terms roughly similar to their Catholic avatars, even though, to an extent more marked than in their successors, they were differentiated by degrees of intimacy and gravitas. Preces related chiefly to private entreaty, whether with a deity or a powerful person. (We will recognise in this a recurrent situation of the primo ottocento, namely, a heroine in extremis appealing either to a deity or to a tyrannical baritone.) Precationes, on the other hand, associated as they were with ceremonies of the comitia, emerged from the public adaptation of preces, the sort of pious communal prayer that operatic composers invoke to image a society at peace with itself, as at the start of Linda di Chamounix or Cavalleria rusticana. Deprecationes, by contrast, were more tendentious and purposeful - prayers designed to ward off evil and, to that extent, a verbal form of apotropaic sacrifice. (These have an operatic history that stretches as far back at least as Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride and as far forward as Verdi's Otello.) And if they succeeded, they led, naturally enough, to festivals of thanksgiving or gratulationes, of which we find a private example in La forza deldestino ('Sono giunta! Grazie, o Dio') as well as such grateful tributes to Isis in Act II, scene 2 of Aida. The standard Christian vehicle for public gratulation was the Te Deum, which figures in propria persona (so to speak) at the start of La Juive.

Obsecrationes took form as solemn public prayers offered up by the people, who invoked the gods as witness to the covenant, while obtestationes referred to even more solemn versions of the same enterprise, such as Sinon's treacherous invocation of 'eternal fires' when the Trojans undo his fetters in the Aeneid. The operatic locus classicus for this kind of prayer is doubtless the 'Conjuration of the nobles' in Meyerbeer's Huguenots, while a 'chamber' version of an obstestatio can also be found in Act 2 duet between hero and villain from Verdi's Otello, 'Sì pel ciel'. There is little (if anything) to distinguish Roman intercessory prayers - supplicia - from preces and precationes, but the closely related activities of blessing and cursing - both specialised intercessory prayers - figured as benedictiones and exsecrationes respectively. Benedictio, despite its being a late Latin term, would cover all those invocations of divine protection and advancement that must have existed at the very birth of the Republic, as witness the blessing that Aeneas calls down on himself in Book 8 of Virgil's poem:

O Father Tiber, with thy hallowed flood,

Take to your care Aeneas and at length

From perils fend him.1

That happens to be a private version of an utterance that could just as easily adapt itself to public occasions and to social groups instead of individuals. So, while the Marquis of Calatrava administers a 'chamber' blessing to Leonora at the start of La forza del destino, Tchaikovsky's Joan of Arc encompasses the entire French nation in her hymn 'Tsar vishnikh sil' in Act 1 of Orleanskaya Dyeva.

The same distinction of scale holds true with regard to the exsecratio. Horace's Tenth Epode represents a private kind of cursing, advanced half in jest:

Under evil omen the ship sets sail, bearing unsavoury Mevius. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Conventions of Prayer in Some 19th-Century Operas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.