Great moments in opera: Saint-François d’Assise

October 4, 2010

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and seems a good time to listen to the greatest piece of music that his life has yet inspired: Olivier Messiaen’s operaSaint-François d’Assise. I have written about this opera before, and, despite its length, I try to listen to it each year at about this time. I may not manage it this year, but I am nonetheless content, for a few months ago I had the opportunity to watch a performance of the work on DVD, and it is still reverberating in my memory.

Video clips of this opera are scarce. The scenes that I would be inclined to select as “great moments” seem not to be available online, and I lack the means to post them myself, so I will have to make do. The best excerpt seems to be this one, of a scene in which St.Francis meets a leper on the road and, encouraged by an angelic vision, overcomes his revulsion and kisses the leper. The leper is dressed as a bumblebee — one of the few things about this production that I think off-key. The scene is long, and this clip shows but a portion. No subtitles, I’m afraid. The angel’s voice cuts through the music like hot white light.

Here is another short clip taken from the same DVD. It is a rather odd choice for posting to YouTube — I’d consider this one of the quiet corners of the opera, rather than a highlight — but somebody evidently thought differently. Francis’ brothers are talking together. Subtitles are included.

These clips hardly do this opera — or, needless to say, this saint — justice, but they are all I can manage today.  Have a very happy Feast of St. Francis.

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