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May 11, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 17

A performance of the 18th-century opera "San Ignacio de Loyola," produced by Jesuit Institute Director T. Frank Kennedy, SJ. Seated at the organ is Senior Lect. John Finney (Music), who is director of Boston Collegeís University Chorale.

Command Performance

Jesuit Institute director produces 18th-century Jesuit work in Rome

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

As the Society of Jesus celebrates the 500th birthday of its founding this year, the voice of the Jesuits' missionary work from centuries ago has echoed once again, thanks to Jesuit Institute Director T. Frank Kennedy, SJ.

An 18th-century Jesuit chamber opera called "San Ignacio de Loyola" uncovered in the remote Bolivian Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1986, found new life in a pair of performances performed in Rome recently, at the request of Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, who wished to have a performance in Rome to recognize the jubilee.

Fr. Kennedy was invited to produce the opera at the behest of Rev. Martin Morales, SJ, who is director of the Jesuit Historical Institute in Rome, responding to a request from Fr. Kolvenbach.

"He asked me if there was an opera we could perform and I suggested this one," said Fr. Kennedy, a music historian and noted expert in Jesuit music who finds and re-stages long-neglected Jesuit operas of the 17th and 18th centuries.

"It was very complex. It's one thing to produce something like this here in Boston; it's another thing to live in Boston and produce in Rome."

Fr. Kennedy sought assistance from University Chorale Director Senior Lect. John Finney (Music), who helped in acquiring the services of Italian musicians and directed their performance.

The stage director of the production was Rev. Michael A. Zampelli, SJ, a theater scholar from Santa Clara University and former visiting fellow at the Jesuit Institute.

The opera features five characters: two angels, a devil and St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier. Act I is about the conversion of St. Ignatius, and his response to God's call. Act II presents Ignatius and Xavier as companions, on fire with zeal for the Kingdom of God and Xavier's consequent departure from Rome as Ignatius sends him to the Far East on his mission of evangelization.

Making the production particularly challenging were the different stipulations of the two performance venues, one of which was San Andrea al Quirinale, a Baroque chapel built for the Jesuits by the famous Baroque architect Gianlorenzo Bernini which served as the first novitiate of the Society of Jesus.

The second venue was a new, modern auditorium called the Auditorium Parco Della Musica, built by the well-known modern architect Renzo Piano. The challenge lay in the fact that the auditorium would not allow the use of sets and costumes as it was meant only for musical, not dramatic performances.

"We ended up with two totally different productions," said Fr. Kennedy. In San Andrea, he explained, the performance was closer to its original Baroque representation with full costuming, baroque sets and use of baroque gestures and movement.

"At the Parco Della Musica we used modern lighting, modern gestures and no costumes.

"In both instances, Fr. Zampelli had an incredible way of making this opera accessible to people today," said Fr. Kennedy.

More than 500 people saw the performance in the auditorium. "There were four curtain calls. It was marvelous," he said.

The 200 who watched the performance in the church included a litany of Jesuits, religious men and women, musicologists and members of the General Curia, including Washington, DC, Archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

"It was the weekend of the Consistory and there were a lot of people in town," said Fr. Kennedy, who gave a lecture before each of the performances, explaining the context of the performances.

"It was a great event for BC and for the Society of Jesus in Rome. People who came saw a very different side of the depth of Jesuit spirituality. It's a wonderful piece, it really draws people in and makes them think.

"People responded very positively. For BC to be at the center of the celebration in Rome for the anniversary year was marvelous."

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