Centuries Later, Jesuit Opera Gets Encore Performance

Centuries Later, Jesuit Opera Gets Encore Performance

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A 17th-century Jesuit chamber opera recently rediscovered in a Vienna archive will be presented at Boston College this month in the first public performance of the work since 1685.

Patientis Christi Memoria, or "Memory of the Suffering of Christ," by Johann Bernhard Staudt (1654-1712), will be performed in St. Mary's Chapel Nov. 23 and 24, with the Ensemble Abendmusik conducted by University Chorale Director John Finney.

Performances will be given at 3 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 23, and 8 p.m. on Nov. 24.

The three-act drama, set at Jesus' tomb before the Resurrection, was composed by the chorus director of the Jesuit Royal College in Vienna, where it was presented on Holy Saturday in 1685 in keeping with the tradition of keeping watch at "sepulchers" of Christ in churches on Good Friday.

Jesuit Institute Director T. Frank Kennedy, SJ, a music historian noted for finding and re-staging long-neglected Jesuit operas of the 17th and 18th centuries, came across the work in the manuscript collection of the National Library of Austria in Vienna.

"It's a very moving little piece," said Fr. Kennedy, who translated the Latin text and arranged the score as producer of the current production, first performed this past June for scholars attending a campus conference on Jesuit culture, science and arts. "They were bowled over by it, by the beauty and sensitivity of it," he said. "It's a gorgeous work."

The stage director of the production is Rev. Michael A. Zampelli, SJ, a theater scholar from Santa Clara University who is a visiting fellow this year at the Jesuit Institute.

"Johann Staudt's Patientis Christi Memoria bridges the distance of over three hundred years with curiously beautiful music and lyrics," Fr. Zampelli writes in a director's note. "Like baroque preaching, Staudt's work aims to teach, to move, and to please by constructing a sensory meditation on the suffering of Christ and the vocation of the Church."

The piece is one of a dozen 17th- and 18th-century Jesuit works that Fr. Kennedy has microfilmed from the Austrian national library and plans to present in the future.

"These little pieces that nobody has heard are incredibly moving and beautiful," Fr. Kennedy said. "Some works that ended up in the dusty archives deserved to be there - but not all!"

Early Jesuit operas previously revived by Fr. Kennedy include "The Apotheosis or Consecration of Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier," originally performed in Rome in 1622 to celebrate the canonization of the two Jesuit saints, and "San Ignacio Loyola," which dates to the Paraguayan missions of the 1720s.

He said unearthing such gems carries a thrill. "It's very exciting," he said. "You say, 'I wonder if I could bring that to life.'"

Admission to the opera is free, but reservations are required. Call the Jesuit Institute at ext.2-8290 for information and tickets.


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