A 300-year-old opera about St Ignatius of Loyola, composed for indigenous Latin Americans and re-versioned for the modern era, has been performed to sell-out crowds at the Grimeborn opera festival in London for its UK stage debut.
The 45-minute opera 'Loyola' was composed in 1720 by Domenico Zipoli, a Jesuit from Italy. His music is still performed at the Gesù, the Jesuit mother Church in Rome, but this particular work was only recently re-discovered, in the archives of Chiquitos in Bolivia.
Loyola was originally written to be sung by the indigenous people living in the Jesuit missions in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The plot involves a dying St Ignatius, who speaks with angels and a demon, and urges his younger companion St Francis Xavier to continue his missionary work overseas after his death.
Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish priest and theologian who founded the Jesuit order in the 16th century, along with six companions, and was an influential figure in the modernization of the Catholic church. Jesuit priests today are known for their strong missionary, educational, and charitable works.
The piece was performed as a concert in London last July, to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of Ignatius becoming a saint. Performances by 'El Parnaso Hyspano' - an ensemble led by Inca tenor Rafael Montero - were held at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street as well as Brompton Oratory, in Knightsbridge.
The UK stage premiere of the long-lost work is one of the first baroque operas to emerge from a combination of Hispanic and Native cultures, bringing together traditional indigenous sounds with music from 18th century Europe. Sung in Spanish with English subtitles, the opera is typically performed on Baroque string and indigenous instruments.
Michael Walling, the director renowned for his settings of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the English National Opera, has reworked Loyola to be placed in a contemporary setting, in what is described as a "comic, impassioned and deeply spiritual work".
Kate Smith, who plays the role of San Francisco in the production said: "It's been a great experience working with this generous cast and production team to offer such a refreshing new take on Zipoli's work. I'm hugely inspired by the urgency and relevancy of director Michael's vision to turn the story into a call for action - that we learn from the indigenous wisdom and find a new way forward."