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Talia Pecker Berio, Cronaca del Luogo

Talia Pecker Berio
Cronaca del Luogo (1999)*

In the Hebrew Bible, the two books of Chronicles are called “The Events of the Days” or, more literally, “The Matters (but also “The Words”) of the Days”, Divrei ha-yamim. It is a concise and generally impersonal record of the main events of Hebrew history from Adam to the Babylonian captivity, shortly after which the Chronicles were probably written (fourth century B.C.E), using materials from earlier books of the Bible.The notion of deuteronomion (Greek for “second law” or “repeated law”), which became the name of the fifth book of the Pentateuch, is derived from the concept of Mishneh Torah: the exercise of repeating, explaining expounding and memorizing the teachings of the Torah. It is not a coincidence that the Hebrew name of that book is Devarim (like its genitive mode, Divrei, in the title of Chronicles), things that happened, that are said, that are listened to and recorded. The process of memory is intimately imbedded in the many concrete acts that have constituted the essence of Jewish life and tradition through time and space. The search for God, the yearning for an unnamable universal truth, are expressed through constant learning and transmission. The Scriptures are the context within which this search takes shape and meaning, the Bible thus becoming an inexhaustable source of instruction and revelation. Layers of commentary (interrogations, interpretations, cross- references, continuous actualizations) have accumulated over and around this Text of Texts, to the point that the very notion of text, of the written word (logos, verbum, the Hebrew davar), has turned into an audible idea, a spoken principle, a mental space within which real life pulses and evolves. The Book and its ideal author, the Word and the spirit who originally made it sound, are one and the same.

Ha-Maqom, “the Place” or “the Site,” is one of the Hebrew ways of referring to God (ha-Shem, “the Name”, is another). But it is more than just a substitute for the Unnamable. It expands the notion of faith well beyond the borders of religion, opening it up to include the material world, the place where humans live and die, where people love and learn and work and fight for their survival. Cronaca del Luogo is therefore not just a chronicle of events and places from Jewish history, but rather a visitation of mental sites and situations that take shape before our eyes and in our ears, in a space which is defined by the strong and imposing presence of the wall, the memories it contains, its voices and its music.

The central figure in Croncaca del Luogo is the woman “R.” It is in R’s mind, in R’s “mental space,” that the action is conceived; she leads us through the sites of her own memory. But at the same time, she herself is a figure from memory: her name alludes to Rahab, the Prostitute of Jericho, who was spared by Joshua for having saved the lives of his two spies. The ambiguity of her roots allow R to encompass other feminine figures, ancient and modern, fictitious and real; the mystery she is surrounded by allows her to cross the events that sound in the wall and unfold on the stage. Perhaps she dreams them, perhaps she tries to tell a story that cannot be told, because it is made of fragments and leads to an unspeakable end, when, overwhelmed, she loses her capacity to record. Her voice falls silent and the Chronicle is overpowered by the Place.

R, the male figures that act around her, the ever-present wall and its voices: they all come to life through the music. It is the sounding of each component of Cronaca del Luogo and its growing into and out of an all-embracing wall of sound, that bring together the fragments of the Chronicle into a meaningful whole. The text itself is one of these components. This is why it cannot be called a “libretto”. Not only does it not have a plot, but its original design was conceived in a way that would allow the maximum adaptability of the words to the “musical action” (azione musicale). The six “situations” that make up the dramaturgy of Cronaca del Luogo (Prologue, The Siege, The Field, The Tower, The House and The Piazza) are apparently independent of each other; yet they are connected by a textual trajectory along which a polyphony of different voices is evoked and developed.

The reader of the full text of Cronaca del Luogo is surrounded by an echo of “glosses” that bring those voices to the surface. They consist entirely of quotations from various sources, many of which lay at the origin of my work, providing me with raw material, guidance, and at times with actual words: above all the Hebrew Bible, the apocryphal and Rabbinc literature; the poetry of Paul Celan, Marina Tsvetayeva, Ida Fink, YiItzhak Katzenelson and, to a lesser extent, T.S.Eliot. Others came up later, when the work was done, like old and new acquaintances that begged to be admitted into an ever growing net of cross-references and ramifications, as if following in the multiple pathes of musical thought, which signifies only itself, while opening endless doors to further meanings.

I wish to thank Elena Loewenthal for the help she gave me in the labyrinths of Jewish Midrash during the preparation of this commented version of the text for Cronaca del Luogo.

* Published in Italian in Luciano Berio, Cronaca del Luogo, testo di Talia Pecker Berio, Milano, Ricordi (libretti) 1999: 5-7; in a bilingual edition in a publication with the same title, Milano, Ricordi 1999: 16 and 18 (English), 17 and 19 (Italian); in English and German in the program book of the first performance of Cronaca del Luogo, Salzburger Festspiele 1999, Salzburg, 1999: 32 (German), English supplement: 15.