Apotheosis sive consecratio SS Ignatii et Francisci Xaverii
Girolamo Kapsberger, 1622
Projecting an image of power, sophistication or benevolence was as important in early
modern Rome as it was anywhere else in Europe, whether among an emerging juggernaut like France, or the court of an inconsequential
backwater principality of the Holy Roman Empire. In addition to its ostentatious curia,
Rome had more than its fair share of religious aristocracies, pompous cardinals and other church officials,
Ignatius of Loyola
(Wikimedia Commons) all of whom were adept at using the arts for their own ends. Thus as high command for the Counter–Reformation, it was natural to enlist the arts in a struggle for Christian hegemony.
This was especially clear to the Jesuit movement, founded by one–time soldier Ignatius Loyola of the
Franco–Iberian region of Basque, who traded his earthly armour for heavenly arms after being wounded in
battle. The Society of Jesus vowed poverty and strict obedience to the Pope — who didn’t at first quite
know what to do with them — and they were deployed as missionary troops in the European crusade against
Protestantism and the proselytizing liberation of pagan peoples east and west. Their weapon of choice was education,
(Wikimedia Commons) hence their reputation for scholarly, complaisant disputatiousness.
Boot camp for the Jesuits was the Collegio Romano — now the Pontifical Gregorian University — where in 1606, Agostino Agazzari staged a ‘pastoral drama’ called Eumelio in the weeks before Lent. It depicts the moral difficulties of a shepherd boy who is deceived by personified Vices and taken to Hades, where Mercury and Apollo beseech Pluto for his return to earth. Eumelio is in the same vein as Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione and was followed by similar presentations at the collegio and elsewhere in Rome, including Catalani’s 1613 David musicus (“David the Musician”) and, in 1622, the Apotheosis sive consecratio SS Ignatii et Francisci Xaverii (“The Elevation or Consecration of Saints Ignatius and Francis Xavier”), music by Girolamo Kapsberger.
Like its predecessors, the Apotheosis is as much an intermedio–like production as it is an opera: it is sung throughout, with the exception of a spoken prologue, but hangs on an otherwise thin plot. Wisdom descends from the clouds and exhorts the youth of
(Wikimedia Commons) the collegio to represent countries that have profited by way of the eponymous saints and, in ancient Roman fashion, to build a temple upon the Campus Martius to deify and honour her heroes. The next four acts feature the arrival of Rome and various countries and their respective retinues, who narrate events from the lives of the saints in their respective lands, stage mock battles, and perform dances. In the final act, all nations return to the stage to witness the burning of the temple and the escape of the captive eagle atop its pinnacle in consecration of Ignatius and Xavier, but the flames are extinguished by an earthquake. A divine cloud descends to rekindle the fire, and the two Saints appear as heaven opens, promising their favour in exchange for the adoration of the participants. As Ignatius and Xavier return to heaven, Rome and its companions leave the stage rejoicing.
For a modern audience, the Apotheosis is a bizarre mingling of Christian, pagan and humanist imagery presented in the homely style peculiar to Roman Catholicism. Scholarly reaction ranges from condemnation as propaganda to apologia for the human condition. All of which, of course, presumes that it be judged by our own standards, rather than the standards of its day. The bulk of Kapsberger’s music is monodic, although there are instrumental interludes for dances, and several instances of choral ritornello to provide some tangible continuity. Like its forebear Rappresentatione, it demonstrated the good use to which the new music could be put in the exhortation toward godliness.