The most popular work honoring the saint must be Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, but before him Purcell also wrote several of his smashing but rarely performed odes dedicated to her.
A few hundred years later, Benjamin Britten, who was born on November 22, composed a choral Hymn to St. Cecilia based on a poem by W.H. Auden.
Like Vivaldi and Steffani centuries before him, Refice was a priest as well as a composer. (Are there other multi-taskers?) Many will not be familiar with Father Refice’s sacred works but his ravishing song “Ombra di nube” has been embraced by many singers through the years from Claudio Muzio, who recorded a beloved version, to Jonas Kaufmann who sang it during his recent Met Stars Live in Concert stream. I, for one, thought Refice’s song the highpoint of his recital.
In contrast to the 17th and 18th century odes, Refice’s azione sacra is not a tribute to the saint but a setting of crucial events in her life: from her ill-fated marriage to her martyrdom at the behest of Roman bad guy Amalchius. Muzio created Cecilia’s title role in 1934 in Rome, and later the opera was a favorite vehicle for Renata Tebaldi. As far as I know this Lincoln Center concert performance was Scotto’s only encounter with Refice’s martyr.
Cecilia’s pagan-then baptized-eventually martyred husband Valerian is sung by Harry Theyard. I feel a special connection to the Scotto-Theyard pairing as the first time I heard the Italian diva was in the summer of 1979 at the Cincinnati Opera. She appeared in Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur opposite Theyard’s Maurizio and was poisoned by Beverly Wolff (whom I knew best as a Handelian) surprisingly cast as the Principessa!
At some point, highlights were issued on CD, but this podcast features the complete Scotto Cecilia.
The Sacred Music Society at Avery Fisher Hall
13 December 1976
Cecilia: Renata Scotto
Heavenly Voice: Clamma Dale
An Old Blind Woman: Gwynn Cornell
Valerian: Harry Theyard
Tiburtius: Thomas Palmer
Bishop Urban: Dimitri Kavrakos
Almachius: George Fourié
A Freedman: Stephen Algie
A Slave: Boris Martinovich
Conductor: Angelo Campori
Cecilia can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
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The archive which lists every Trove Thursday offering since the beginning in alphabetical order by composer was updated in September.