Il diluvio universale, a ‘dialogue for five voices and five instruments’ wasperformed in Messina in 1682, the year in which its composer Michelangelo Falvetti, a native of Palermo, was appointed maestro di cappella of the cathedral. Thanks to this privileged position, he soon found himself at the heart of musical events in the city, gaining approval as both composer and concert organiser. We do not know what prompted him to move to Messina, which he knew well because he had studied there. When he arrived, the city still showed signs of the harsh punishment inflicted by the Spanish monarchy, against which it had dared to rebel. It is quite plausible that the action of Il diluvio universale, which deals with the themes of disobedience and divine punishment, was inspired by these events.
The libretto of the work is held in the library of the Fondazione Giorgio-Cini in Venice, while a manuscript score is conserved in the Biblioteca Regionale Universitaria in Messina.
The text is by Vincenzo Giattini (1630-97), an admired librettist in Palermo at this time. Since the score contains neither the names of the characters nor the instrumental forces required, the printed libretto is a precious source of information. It enables us to establish the identity of the different characters and the year in which the work was performed, and also to identify with some precision the instrumental forces employed by the composer through comparison with the lists of musicians at Messina Cathedral in these years. The forces listed for 1680, in addition to the voices, comprised four violins, four violas, an archlute, a trombone, and four organists. This is a complement of instruments very close to that of the score, which features five real instrumental parts (six in two cases): two upper voices notated in the treble clef (violins I and II); two middle voices in the alto and tenor clefs respectively (violas I and II); and parts in the bass clef for the continuo instruments and organ.
The libretto presents some of the ‘modern’ characteristics mentioned in Arcangelo Spagna’s Discorso intorno a gl’Oratorii (Discourse on oratorios, 1706): a small number of characters, a concise text, no narrator (historicus). In the prologue, the protagonists are Divine Justice and the four Elements, Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The ‘dialogue’ proper features Noah, his wife Rad, God, Death, and Human Nature. To this is added the chorus – often in five parts – which, as in the oratorios of Carissimi, plays a leading role. The story is taken from one of the best-known and most catastrophic episodes in the Old Testament: the Lord, weary of earthly wickedness and corruption, decides to exterminate humanity by making it rain continuously for forty days and forty nights. He will spare only Noah, his family, and the animals of each species which He has ordered to be given shelter in the Ark. The subject is splendidly suited to dramatic treatment, and Giattini and Falvetti take full advantage of this throughout the piece. On the whole, the text displays the characteristics of the dialogues of the time, with narrative sections alternating with lyrical and meditative passages. The former, in recitative and arioso style, almost always employ rhymed hendecasyllables and septenaries, as Spagna recommends. The arias, on the other hand, are in a wide variety of metres.
The score shows few significant divergences from the libretto. The first of these is the insertion of the aria
‘Stempratevi o cieli’, an addition which reveals Falvetti’s acute sense of drama, since the aria is directly preceded by the ‘storm sinfonia’. The other variant is the suppression of Noah’s aria ‘Se a le mie suppliche’, which appears in the libretto before the duet ‘Fuggano i nembi d’orrore’ for Noah and Rad.
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