Jules Massenet Composer
La Vierge (oratorio)Performances: 6
Musicology:In the same way that Massenet often called his stage works by names other than operas, so he gave his religious works names other than oratorio (in this case he used the name legend sacrée, a sacred legend). His new generic designations for his sacred works are particularly appropriate, for they are almost indistinguishable from stage works; Marie-Magdeleine was adapted into an opera. La Vierge even had its premiere at the Paris Opéra, though as part of a series of concerts.
La Vierge (oratorio)Genre: Oratorio
Pr. Instrument: Voice
Images of virginity took on a particularly sensual guise during the late 1800s; some of the most lush Pre-Raphaelite paintings are of nuns, and Massenet drew a web of eroticism around his most virginal heroines, such as Sita in Le Roi de Lahore and Salomé in Herodiade. It is no wonder, then, that Mary's music is filled with a passionate longing, particularly in her prayer, and that it is full of language as easily addressed to a lover. When she appeals to her son to remember her, her reproaches and pleas are like those of a discarded lover. Similarly, the feast at Canaan, where Jesus performs his first miracle, opens with a chorus celebrating the physical pleasures of the evening and the feast, and the same scene features a dance.
The first performance was poorly received, and after a sparsely attended second performance, the third was canceled. Even during the height of his fame, only excerpts were performed, though Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge (The last sleep of the Virgin), the meditative cello-and-strings prelude to the fourth act, was briefly a popular concert piece. In 1990, it was performed at the Massenet Festival.
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