Resilience Reimagined:   1 – Il Diluvio Universale (Michelangelo Falvetti)

Source: Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Resilience Reimagined:   1 – Il Diluvio Universale (Michelangelo Falvetti)

In 1682, the Italian composer Michelangelo Falvetti, conducted the first performance of what is now a long-forgotten hybrid work about Noah and the Flood. Not a religious oratorio and certainly not a conventional baroque opera, Il Diluvio Unviersale (The Great Flood) is Falvetti’s subversive creative re-working of Genesis.

He begins with four elements, Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, striking a deal with Divine Justice who has had quite enough of the “hardened impiety of the wicked world.” Together, this elemental quartet will kick up a very destructive fuss. And they certainly do.

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Noah are practising social distance on the Ark, which in this version is surprisingly animal-free. They intercede for mercy on behalf of all those who didn’t come aboard with them. As does the character, Human Nature: “Why are you so cruel? It is I, do you not recognize me? I am Human Nature, so dear to you.” Source: Falvetti CD cover, courtesy Ambronay/Harmonia Mundi

All without success. Despite the discordant shrieks, a terrible elemental storm destroys most of humanity. The character, Human Nature beg: “Why are you so cruel? It is I, do you not recognize me? I am Human Nature, so dear to you.”

Then the Noah’s, now aging in place in the Ark, ask that this “severity cease” first of all because they want their freedom back. Noah prays that God (interestingly not to God) will change the bow of anger into a rainbow of peace. “Within the circle of a sphere. The bright dawn of mercy, though veiled, still blazes,” says Noah. The reply, not from God but from a heavenly chorus, reassures the Noah’s that when they leave the Ark, as they will surely do, they will enter a grove of olive trees that is lit by the “true sun.” The final lines: “Let each faithful soul pluck the fruits of life from the fair branches of peace.”

To describe the music as glorious, playful, rich, and energizing doesn’t quite capture it. In turns, it is delightful, edgy, loud (the storm sequence is pure baroque rock-and-roll), pleading, desperate, and it ends, I think just bit too soon, with a sudden harmonic calmness.Source: Cappella Mediterranea in performance, artists' website

Why have I played this CD (Il Diluvio Universale, conducted by Leonardo Garcia Alarcòn, Ambronay/ Harmonia Mundi AMY 026, 2011) so often in the past few months? Certainly not because I think Covid-19 is a 21st century version a divinely implemented deadly flood, but for much the same reason that the composer took on this topic.

Falvetti, who perhaps not so incidentally was also a Catholic priest, gives Genesis a sideways glance at human behaviour and survival because he uses it to speak to something contemporary without being censored, as he surely would have been at that time in history. He staged this work in Messina, the Sicilian city that had long been under Spanish control and where the citizens had long rebelled against the harsh punishments inflicted by the Spanish, until they left. He uses “the flood” to deftly celebrate human disobedience, actions he can endorse by making them appear as details in the biblical story.

Resilience rather than disobedience is perhaps how we would characterize this today.


Capella Mediterranea has posted a YouTube of a live performance, all 1 hour and 12 minutes of it, followed by a delightfully raucous clap-along/dance-along encore from Death at the 1hr-14minute mark:


In this Resilience Reimagine series I will present musical examples of resilience, music of survival, endurance, meditation, and thanksgiving. Music for survival, endurance, meditation, and thanksgiving. Much of it, from a sideways perspective.

Next, reconciliation and a walk along the shore of Lake Superior.


“The links in the series are to external sites and were accurate when posted, and igNation has no responsibility for their persistence or accuracy and does not guarantee that any content on them is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.”

Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 08:32h, 19 August Reply

    Thank you Kevin!

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