ROH Madama Butterfly live stream

Today is my wife’s birthday. To celebrate we went to our local cinema in Cornwall last night to watch the live stream of the Royal Opera House production of Madama Butterfly. Here’s the notice on their website:

Antonio Pappano and Renato Balsadonna conduct two great casts led by Ermonela Jaho and Ana María Martínez in Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production of Puccini’s deeply poignant opera.

Madama Butterfly ROHErmonela Jaho was breathtaking in the title role. Her singing was sublime, as was her acting. As the interviews before the show and during the interval showed, she managed to convey through her voice as well as her acting the growth and developing maturity in her character.

I’d forgotten that Cio-Cio San (Butterfly) is only 15 when she’s married to the caddish Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton as part of the deal to buy a 999-year lease on a house in Nagasaki. He seems to do this on a whim, as he passes through the port on his navy battleship. What a selfish swine he is! His remorse at the end is dastardly.

Elizabeth DeShong as Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki, was particularly touching in portraying her devotion to her young mistress.

He’s captivated by the girl’s radiant beauty and trusting innocence. There’s a slightly creepy edge to his character, given how young the girl is, and the wedding night scene is slightly unsettling as Butterfly lies passively on the floor at his feet as he salaciously unbuttons his tunic. This production never lapses into sentimentality: it’s hard-hitting and honest.

Some of his words take on a chilling significance in this new era of American politics when he brags about Americans’ view of themselves as having a god-given right to do what they like where they like with whom they like.

The story is simple and heartbreaking, and I’d defy anyone to sit through this magnificent production dry-eyed. The set is beautiful, the musicians, direction and singing spine-tingling. Even the lighting and costumes play an important part in the experience. Although the immediacy of a live performance is diminished by watching it on a screen, there’s a benefit derived from the clever film director’s use of well-prepared close-ups or choice of frame to enhance the story-telling and spectacle.

Butterfly’s big arias in the final third are particularly thrilling, and Ms Jaho sings and acts them with total conviction and passion. This is by far the best production of the opera I’ve seen – better even than the excellent Berlin Deutsche Oper performance we saw one Christmas a few years ago (when the Humming Song became my wife’s favourite part of the piece – maybe mine, too.)

If you get a chance to see one of these ROH live stream performances – they play all over the world – I’d urge you to do so. There’s a link HERE to their searchable schedule.

Living in the far SW of England as I do, it’s not often I get  the chance to go to London for a theatrical performance of this calibre. This is definitely almost as good. Here’s the schedule of future productions, taken from the ROH website (like the lovely poster image; hope I”m not breaking copyright by reproducing it here.)

Holy Unmercenaries/Agioi Anargyroi, pt II

Royal Soc. of Medicine coat of arms, Cosmas and Damian supporting

Royal Soc. of Medicine coat of arms, Cosmas and Damian supporting (from the RSM website): see penultimate paragraph below

In my last post I wrote about the Agioi Anargyroi – the Holy Unmercenaries –  saints and martyrs who performed charitable works, usually as physicians, but who accepted no payment for their services. This antagonised the local pagans, who persecuted them and finally executed them – but not before extraordinary miracles were witnessed, such as surviving gruesome tortures and thwarted attempts to despatch them. The last members of this cohort are my favourites, not least because one of them provides the name for one of the spookiest characters ever to appear on film, in the ‘Omen’ series – the twin brother physician-saints, Cosmas and Damian, who died c. 287:

 

STS. COSMAS and DAMIAN were brothers,

Fra Angelico, Sepulchring scene, c. 1438-43

Fra Angelico, Sepulchring scene

and born in Arabia, but studied the sciences in Syria, and became eminent for their skill in physic. Being Christians, and full of that holy temper of charity in which the spirit of our divine religion consists,

The saints illuminated in the Heures d'Anne de Bretagne, a 16th century book of hours, showing Cosmas and Damian with their usual attributes of medical instrument and jar, symbolising their dispensing cures as physicians

The saints illuminated in the Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, a 16th century book of hours, showing Cosmas and Damian with their usual attributes of medical instrument or jars, symbolising their dispensing cures as physicians

they practised their profession with great application and wonderful success, but never took any fee. They were loved and respected by the people on account of the good offices received from their charity, and for their zeal for the Christian faith, which they took every opportunity to propagate. When the persecution of Diocletian began to rage, it was impossible for persons of so distinguished a character to lie concealed. They were therefore apprehended by the order of Lysias, Governor of Cilicia, and after various torments were bound hand and foot and thrown into the sea. (From the online version of Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. [1894] entry for Sept. 27, their feast day or ‘dies natalis’ – day of rebirth into heaven – in the Roman calendar until 1969, when it was moved to the 26th. The whole group is commemorated in the Eastern church in the Synaxis of the Unmercenary Physicians on the first Sunday in November. It celebrates three pairs of saints with this name, with feast days on 1 July, 17 October and 1 November.)

Martyrdom of Cosmas, Damian and brothers, N. French altarpiece, c. 1480, Brooklyn Museum

Martyrdom of Cosmas, Damian and brothers, N. French altarpiece, c. 1480, Brooklyn Museum

A longer version of their legend full of supernatural wonders (eg when the pagans try to stone the brothers to death, the stones recoil and hit the throwers) and  with a typically fanciful etymology of their names (more allegorical and edifying than linguistically accurate)  is found in the hugely popular hagiographical compilation Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine, c. 1260. This legendary survives in nearly 1000 MSS and was soon translated into most European languages; one of Caxton’s first printed books was an English version, ‘The Golden Legend’, of 1483. The 1900 translation by F.S. Ellis can be consulted here.

Fra Angelico, saving of Cosmas and Damian, 1438-43

Fra Angelico, saving of Cosmas and Damian

 

The legends of Cosmas and Damian (eg by Voragine) include claims that their benevolence even extended to their treating sick animals, as well as people such as this woman:

Fra Angelico, Healing of Palladia, c. 1438-40

Fra Angelico, Healing of Palladia

Once, the saints were summoned to a grievously ill woman named Palladia, whom all the doctors had refused to treat because of her seemingly hopeless condition. Through faith and through the fervent prayer of the holy brothers, the Lord healed the deadly disease and Palladia got up from her bed perfectly healthy and giving praise to God. In gratitude for being healed and wishing to give them a small gift, Palladia went quietly to Damian. She presented him with three eggs and said, “Take this small gift in the Name of the Holy Life-Creating Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Hearing the Name of the Holy Trinity, the unmercenary one did not dare to refuse.

When St Cosmas learned what had happened, became very sad, for he thought that his brother had broken their strict vow. On his deathbed he gave instructions that his brother should not be buried beside him. St Damian also died shortly afterward, and everyone wondered where St Damian’s grave should be. But through the will of God a miracle occurred. A camel, which the saints had treated for its wildness, spoke with a human voice saying that they should have no doubts about whether to place Damian beside Cosmas, because Damian did not accept the eggs from the woman as payment, but out of respect for the Name of God. The venerable relics of the holy brothers were buried together at Thereman (Mesopotamia). [From the Orthodox Church in America website, entry for Cosmas, possibly one of the other, synonymous physician saints – hagiography isn’t always a precise science.)

Another popular feature in the miraculous stories recounting the twins’ thaumaturgical powers is this one:

Leg-grafting miracle, German, 1515

Leg-grafting miracle, assisted by angels German, 1515

Felix, the eighth pope after S. Gregory, did do make a noble church at Rome of the saints Cosmo and Damian, and there was a man which served devoutly the holy martyrs in that church, who a canker had consumed all his thigh. And as he slept, the holy martyrs Cosmo and Damian, appeared to him their devout servant, bringing with them an instrument and ointment of whom that one said to that other: Where shall we have flesh when we have cut away the rotten flesh to fill the void place? Then that other said to him: There is an Ethiopian that this day is buried in the churchyard of S. Peter ad Vincula, which is yet fresh, let us bear this thither, and take we out of that morian’s flesh and fill this place withal. And so they fetched the thigh of the sick man and so changed that one for that

leg-grafting, alternative version, attrib. to Master of Los Balbases c. 1495, after Alonso de Sedano, Wellcome Library, London

A verger’s dream: leg-grafting, alternative version, attrib. to Master of Los Balbases c. 1495, after Alonso de Sedano, Wellcome Library, London

other. And when the sick man awoke and felt no pain, he put forth his hand and felt his leg without hurt, and then took a candle, and saw well that it was not his thigh, but that it was another. And when he was well come to himself, he sprang out of his bed for joy, and recounted to all the people how it was happed to him, and that which he had seen in his sleep, and how he was healed. And they sent hastily to the tomb of the dead man, and found the thigh of him cut off, and that other thigh in the tomb instead of his. (From the Ellis edition of ‘The Golden Legend’ online, cited above.)

Their brothers Anthimus, Leontius, and Euprepius are reputed to have been martyred with them. The twins’ relics were

Fra Angelico, Healing of Justinian, 1438-40, Museo di San Marco, Florence

Fra Angelico, Healing of Justinian

translated to the city of Cyrrhus in Syria, and a number of miracles were said to have been effected by them. The emperor Justinian I (527-65) was cured of illness through the intercession of these saints, and in gratitude he restored the city, dedicated it in their name, and re-translated their relics to Constantinople. There he built a sumptuous church also in their name.

Pope Felix presents the basilica to Cosmas and Damian

Pope Felix presents the basilica to Cosmas and Damian, Tuscan school, early 1600s

The veneration of these important Unmercenaries is also attested by the rededication of the Bibliotheca Pacis in Rome as the basilica Santi Cosma i Damiano by Pope Felix IV (526-30). The sixth-century frescos in this church survive today.

Munich shrine

Munich shrine

Fra Angelico, Martyrdom of Cosmas and Damian

Fra Angelico, Martyrdom of Cosmas and Damian

Skulls reputed to be those of Cosmas and Damian were translated in the tenth century from Rome to sites in Germany and subsequently in 1581 to a convent of Nuns of St Clare in Madrid. In 1381 the bishop of Bremen is said to have miraculously rediscovered their skulls – a duplication not unprecedented in the cults of relics of saints (the medieval Catholic church provided convenient explanations for such anomalies), and an elaborate shrine to house them was constructed in 1420. It’s now on display in Munich. Yet another pair of skulls said to have been found in the fifteenth century was enshrined in Vienna cathedral.

Fra Angelico, San Marco altarpiece: Cosmas and Damian kneel in foreground

Fra Angelico, San Marco altarpiece: Cosmas and Damian kneel in foreground

Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder commissioned the Dominican friar Fra Angelico to paint an altarpiece for the church and monastery of San Marco, which was rededicated to Cosmas and Damian, as well as to St Mark; it was completed some time between 1438-43. The central panel is a portrait of the Virgin and child surrounded by saints; Cosmas kneels in the foreground left looking out at the viewer, and is said to be a likeness of Cosimo himself, while Damian kneels alongside him to the right. There were nine predella panels

Fra Angelico: Cosmas and Damian before Lisius

Fra Angelico: Cosmas and Damian before Lisius

depicting scenes from the twin saints’ legend; two of them are still in what is now the San Marco Museum, the others are in the Louvre and elsewhere. Some are incorporated into this blogpost.

 

 

 

 

Statue of St Cosmas, W front Salisbury Cathedral

Statue of St Cosmas, W front Salisbury Cathedral, a Victorian restoration of dubious attribution

There are many churches dedicated to Cosmas and Damian across the world, but only five in England:

Blean , church of St Cosmus [sic] and St Damian, and Challock, both in Kent, probably dedicated through association with the saints’ popularity at nearby Canterbury Cathedral, which in the fourteenth century possessed a feretory containing relics of the twins;

Keymer, Sussex;

Sherrington, Wiltshire, Church of St Cosmo [sic] and St Damian;

Stretford church

Stretford church

Stretford, Herefordshire.

Their cult never seemed to catch on in England, though there were relics in the cathedrals of Canterbury (noted above), Salisbury and elsewhere. For a full scholarly account of the English cult and the five churches above, with reference to iconographical and other representations, see the account here by Leslie G. Matthews. He points out, for example, that they appear in several gilds’ and associations’ coats of arms: Barbers, Surgeons, etc. When thirteen societies amalgamated into the Royal Society of Medicine in 1907, its coat of arms depicted the two saints as supporters – the physician Cosmas (dexter) holding an albarello (an apothecary’s medicine jar), and the surgeon Damian (sinister) holding a surgical instrument (image at the start of this post).

In the church I visited in SE Cyprus dedicated to the Agioi Anargyroi, and which inspired these two blogposts, I neglected to take any pictures of the icons of the saints, so I’ll have to rely on the online examples reproduced here, all in the public domain via WikiCommons except for the coat of arms, from the RSM website.

Painted apse ceiling of the church of Cosmas and Damian, Rome, 7th century

Painted apse ceiling of the church of Cosmas and Damian, Rome, 7th century

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Menologion of Basil II, c. 1000, Byzantine MS

From the Menologion of Basil II, c. 1000, Byzantine (Constantinople), one of 430 illuminations of saints in this liturgical synaxary and calendar, MS Cod. Vat. gr. 1613, probably the first of two volumes, second now lost