La Santissima Trinita: A Scarlatti Oratorio
How can the mystery of the Holy Trinity be understood? or appreciated? How can we have a glimpse of the divine amidst the busyness of life?
The image of a blindfolded woman (first image below) found in the cover of the CD box of Virgin Classics recording of Scarlatti’s “La Santissima Trinita” (2004) might provide us a clue. Could listening, instead of seeing, be the road towards understanding the mysteries of the Trinity? Could being blindfolded be better than trying to understand the iconographic symbolism applied, as an example, to the diagrammatic representation of the Trinity with the crucified Christ (as reproduced in the CD booklet of the same recording – see image last image below)?
In this oratorio, Scarlatti attempts to provide the audience an opportunity to listen to the “charms and mysteries of the Holy Trinity” (Olivier Rouviere). This sacred musical drama shows arguments between Faithlessness and Faith, Divine Love and Time, and Theology.
While the oratario is set in Italian, English translation is provided (we do need to see after all). Part One of the Oratorio begins:
No, it is not possible
too great a mystery
you presume to understand:
the ocean without water
no one can see.
Yes, with your help I can,
such precious insights
does your illumination give me;
but I know I am close
to understanding it.
I who all the secrets of the Almighty
scrutinize with the eyes of the mind,
doubt not that I shall understand so great a mystery,
indeed, I warrant that human intelligence
will one day understand the inscrutable enigma.
A tree stretches forth three branches
but remains a single tree;
and thus will mankind understand
how one can be a Trinity.”
The rest of the oratorio continues this exchange, conversation, debate, point and counterpoint between the various characters of this sacred drama.
With a total of 67 minutes of recorded music, the listener somehow “sees” how the characters sing their arguments about a subject that can be dry, uninspiring, and worse, unintelligible or impenetrable.
Note: Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) Oratorio per la Santissima Trinita. Fabio Biondi/Europa Galante. EMI/Virgin Classical/Veritas, 2004.