Spoleto Festival Orchestra/Richard Hickox
Menotti composed this ballet score to his own libretto in 1944. The choreography of the original production was considered unsuccessful, but with restagings later it became a success. Sebastian is a Moorish slave, secretly in love with a courtesan. She, in her turn, shares love with the Prince of their Italian kingdom. The prince’s sisters, desiring to end the affair, steal the courtesan’s veil, which allows them to work black magic on her, which they can do with a life-sized wax figure covered with the veil; firing arrows into it will kill her. Sebastian learns of the plot, substitutes himself for the wax figure, and is shot with the arrows. The sacrifice breaks their spell over the courtesan, and she is reunited with her beloved.
Menotti’s music is ardent and romantic, sort of an Italian Prokofiev in style and sound. It is very listenable, a fine score of its type. When the work was first heard in New York, critic, Mark Schubart, reporting for The New York Times stated that the music “is prettily orchestrated, and the more violent portions are filled with elaborate percussion effects, flutter-tonguing on the brasses and carefully balanced, effective sonorities.” He noted also the “attractive melodies, simple in intent and immediate in appeal”. There is a suite in seven movements drawn from the score.
Picture: “Martyrdom of St Sebastian” (detail) by Antonio Giorgetti (pre-1670)