Dèbora e Jaéle (‘Deborah and Jael’)
- John C.G. Waterhouse
Opera in three acts by Ildebrando Pizzetti to his own libretto, freely based on Judges iv and v; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 16 December 1922.
Pizzetti’s adaptation, begun in 1915, of the well-known Old Testament story preserves the external outline of the original (Jael does indeed end up driving a tent-peg into the sleeping Sisera’s skull); but the motivation is completely transformed and the distribution of good and evil almost reversed. Deborah (mezzo-soprano) is depicted as the inflexible representative of the established Jewish law, whereas Sisera (tenor) – who is here himself the King of Canaan – is a far more complex and interesting character. Having been to Greece in Phoenician ships, he has begun to develop an alternative vision of life which makes him feel estranged from his own people. Jael (soprano) too, in a more purely instinctive way, senses that the old law is not the absolute truth, but needs to be superseded by something higher. Consequently, when sent by Deborah to persuade Sisera to lead his army into a situation where defeat will be inevitable, she finds that there is a bond of sympathy between her and the king which quickly gives rise to a conflict between love and duty. Later, when (as in the biblical story) the defeated Sisera takes refuge in Jael’s tent, their love is renewed; and the king then falls asleep, profoundly exhausted. The victorious Israelites are heard closing in from all sides; whereupon Jael, in panic, decides to kill Sisera herself before he awakes, rather than expose him to the worse death that would await him if he were found there alive....