Georgetown University Music Faculty and Students Bring to Life 18th-century Oratorio

Free event culminates semester-long interdisciplinary exploration of Baroque music

November 9, 2009 — Washington, D.C. — While completing research in the library of the Conservatory of Naples (San Pietro a Majella), Italy, Georgetown University Music Program faculty member Anthony R. DelDonna made a serendipitous 2008 discovery of a long-lost oratorio by Neapolitan composer Nicolà Ceva, a musician associated with the Jesuit institutions of the city. Now through the collaborative efforts of colleagues and students, the work will be presented in its first performance since 1705 on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. in Wolfington Hall (the Jesuit residence on GU’s main campus).

Trionfo per l’Assunzione della Santissima Vergine (“Triumph of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin”), will be performed in Italian (with English translations provided) by Georgetown University students and a chamber ensemble of local professionals. A Friday Music Series concert on November 13 at 1:15 p.m. in Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel will preview highlighted excerpts from the oratorio, along with harpsichord works of the period performed by Peabody Conservatory faculty member Mark Janello.

Composed for the Collegio dei Nobili, the principal Jesuit school in Naples, Ceva’s Trionfo celebrates the Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 15), a Roman Catholic day of observation that celebrates Mary’s ascension into heaven at the end of her life. The Dec. 3 performance represents the final project for students enrolled in the course “Music Theory and Performance,” an interdisciplinary study of the Baroque period, combining theoretical and practical studies. Eight students — seven vocalists and one keyboardist — met twice a week to explore musicological research, contextual theoretical concepts and to examine the historical, religious, social and artistic contexts for music making in the 17th and 18th centuries. They also participated in weekly rehearsals and private lessons, focused on the study and performance of the oratorio and delving into Baroque performance practices, techniques and skills.

More than 300 years after Trionfo’s debut, the Dec. 3 performance will echo elements of the oratorio’s creation and premiere as students and professionals from the local community perform together at a Jesuit educational institution. “The project embodies the Ignatian spirit of collaboration and teamwork, drawing upon the talents of diverse faculty (music and otherwise), students, the engagement and cooperation of the Jesuit community, and even community at large,” says DelDonna. In particular, the academic course and lectures were designed by DelDonna, and the musical instruction was a collaborative endeavor with colleagues C. Paul Heins and local Baroque specialists Jennifer Ellis, (soprano) and Mark Janello (harpsichord). “We were also fortunate to have as guest lecturers, colleagues from other academic areas at Georgetown, especially Gianni Cicali, from the Italian Department, and Fr. John O’Malley, among the foremost contemporary Jesuit historians.”

DelDonna, whose expertise is 18th-century Neapolitan music, musicians and culture, discovered the 200-page score that got lost in the shuffle of thousands of other manuscripts, photographed the pages, transcribed it into modern notation, and translated the 18th-century Italian into English to bring it back to life. He notes that the intensive process of study, rehearsal, and performance has provided students with the rare opportunity to engage with Baroque music in a deeply authentic way. “The students are hearing this music come to life, learning from the source itself about Baroque melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and form.” And DelDonna says the oratorio has not only academic, but also emotional impact. “What I love about the poetry is the immediacy of it, the beautiful humanity of it. Mary is speaking in the first person not simply to her allegorical interlocutors, but all those in attendance.”

With music direction by Jennifer Ellis, Mark Janello, C. Paul Heins, and Anthony R. DelDonna, the performance features the following musicians: Alexandra Whitfield, soprano; Megan Hickey, soprano; Rebecca Saldivar, alto; Alicia Rubio, alto; Robert Gregory, tenor; Jordan Romanoff, tenor; Stephen Murray, tenor; Colin Nagle, harpsichord; Mark Janello, harpsichord; Risa Browder, violin; Michael De Sapio, violin 2; Martha Weiss, viola; and Jodi Beder, cello.

Wolfington Hall is located in the Southwest Quadrangle on Georgetown University’s main campus. For more information, visit or call (202) 687-ARTS (2787).

Anthony R. DelDonna, an assistant professor in the Georgetown University Department of Performing Arts, is a specialist in eighteenth-century topics and in particular Neapolitan music, musicians and culture. He earned the Ph.D. in Historical Musicology “with distinction” from The Catholic University of America, and is the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to 18th-Century Opera and editor of Genre and Music in the 18th Century as well as various scholarly articles in the field.

The Georgetown University Music Program is distinctive for its emphasis on the study of music as both a manifestation of multiculturalism in the American World and a creative activity within contemporary society. The program specializes in all forms of music associated with American Culture, including jazz, rock, film, popular music from around the world, and music stemming from the Western European Tradition (i.e. classical music). The new liberal arts degree in American Musical Culture integrates the University’s strengths in politics and American Studies and is designed for students interested in pursuing careers and/or graduate study in arts management, composition, cultural criticism, entertainment law, media studies, music business, music journalism or musicology. For well over a century, Georgetown students have actively participated in ensembles such as orchestra, concert choir, jazz band and chamber music. There are also several co-curricular groups such as the Pep Band that perform at athletic events and a cappella singing groups. More recently, the Music Program has expanded its performance offerings. The 2009-10 season includes performances by groups like the World Percussion Ensemble; Guild of Bands, an organization dedicated to contemporary popular music; and collaborations with professional ensembles including American Opera Theater and the Post-Classical Ensemble.

Laura Mertens
(202) 687-6933