St. Paul Oratorio, F. Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn's St. Paul Oratorio often remains in the shadow of other Baroque masters' more prominent efforts, which also served as inspiration for it, like Bach's St Matthew Passion or Handel's Messiah. In modern times, you seldom hear St. Paul in its entirety, which dooms a carefully crafted, powerful sacred work to obscurity. However, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence offers you a rare opportunity this May to experience Mendelssohn's hidden masterpiece in full, under the lead of conductor Fabio Luisi and choir director Lorenzo Fratini.
Mendelssohn composed the St. Paul Oratorio at a turbulent time in his life. The recent passing of his father Abraham, his first musical influence and a strong voice of support for the oratorio in preparation, and the first meeting with Cécile Jeanrenaud, his wife-to-be, left the composer in emotional turmoil. A Christian convert himself, Mendelssohn chose to tell the story of the Pharisee Saul, a zealous unbeliever whom Jesus Christ converts into the man we know as St. Paul, Christianity's most ardent defender. The St. Paul Oratorio premiered on 22 May 1836 in Düsseldorf to public acclaim. The critics, however, were less kind.
Mendelssohn based the story on both the Old and the New Testament, taking some creative liberties, which irritated the conservative minds. Most scandalously, the composer made the progressive choice to let Christ speak through a chorus of four women during the culmination of the oratorio. The bold play with religious and social norms definitely had a part in the work's relative obscurity.
Musically, Mendelssohn's St. Paul is just as avant-garde. It borrows from Baroque's classical expression means, but it also breathes unique new life into them. The counterpoint is inspired and fresh, and the chorales are dynamic and agile. In terms of both composition and script, this is a performance not to be missed!
Paulus, oratory for soloists, choir and orchestra Op. 36
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Choir director: Lorenzo Fratini
Orchestra and Choir of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Valentina Farcas: Ananias
Roman Trekel: Paulus
Christian Elsner: Barnaba
Anke Vondung: Stephen