Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-1695)
L'Assalonne, Oratorio for five voices, trumpet, strings and continuo
Among the thirteen oratorios by Giovanni Paolo Colonna, more than half are connected, by their origin or at least by tradition, to the court of Francesco II d’Este. Although in the early modern period the sacredness of monarchy was indisputable, we cannot take it for granted that an oratorio – unlike an opera, as was usually the case – was offered to a monarch in order to praise him unconditionally. In many oratorio librettos, the monarch and spectator (who was also the patron and dedicatee) was actually confronted with the perils of his role, the faults of his predecessors, the renunciation of his personal freedom, and the momentousness of his office, over which God’s will and Christ’s model loomed. So while operas were often an instrument of applause, oratorios were often an instrument of admonition. This last aspect is fully expressed in L’Assalonne, drawn from the Second Book of Samuel in the biblical Old Testament. Absalom attempts to seize power in the Kingdom of Israel by dethroning his father David. In the decisive battle, although the legitimate king has ordered his troops not to harm his rebellious son, the latter, whose long hair gets tangled in the branches of a tree leaving him hanging there while his horse moves on, is stabbed to death by general Joab. David grieves for his son, but Joab admonishes him: the king must not show love for a person who has attacked him, or scorn for a person who has saved him. This rebuke reminds David of his duty as a king; he moves towards the door, and his subjects gather once more in front of him. In Bergamori’s libretto the original fabula is transposed faithfully: the few changes depend on the wish to follow Aristotle’s unities (which are absent in the biblical stories) as much as possible.