THE TESTAMENT OF JOSEPH LUMBROSO
a new opera by Osías Wilenski (music) and Jacobo Kaufmann (libretto)
The drama is based on historical events and personalities, as registered by the Mexican Inquisition and Luis de Carvajal (The Younger) (1567 - 1596), self called Joseph Lumbroso. The text includes verses he wrote himself, and frequent quotes from the Bible, of which Carvajal and some of his friends had a profound knowledge.
The play has been structured on a series of almost chronological scenes, intertwined with dreams, poetry, souvenirs and mystical visions. Its staging presents a challenge to the imagination of directors, scene, costume and lighting designers. The author, himself an opera stage-director, has conferred much importance to the music, mainly but not only for those instances in the drama, demanding specific musical treatments. The play was originally written in Spanish, and translated into English by its author.
Origins and dedication
Jacobo Kaufmann's first encounter with the subject of the Inquisition in Hispanic America and the life of Luis de Carvajal (Joseph Lumbroso) occurred many years ago, when he read a book by Boleslao Lewin called "Martyrs and Conquerors in Hispanic America". Soon he had the privilege of becoming a friend of this author, and they talked on many occasions about the different aspects of crypto-Judaism in Latin America. For several years, during which he studied the subject in depth, he promised to Boleslao Lewin, that he would one day write a theatrical play on the Jewish heroes of the cruel epos before us. The project, delayed by different circumstances of life, revived again in 1990. The promise was thus fulfilled, but Boleslao Lewin had passed away on March 27, 1988, and unfortunately did not live long enough to hear about it. Therefore Kaufmann has dedicated this drama to the memory of his illustrious friend.
Sources and documents
The play is based mainly on authentic material, fundamentally on the "Trials of Luis de Carvajal (the Younger)", published by the Archivo General de la Nación de los E.E.U.U. Mejicanos in 1935, a document including the Memoirs, Testament, and Letters of Carvajal himself. Jacobo Kaufmann has also studied La Familia Carvajal by Alfonso Toro, a book published in Mexico in 1944, based on many other original documents related to the members of this family, to their friends, and to the customs and every day life in the New Spain of the 16th. century. Finally the playwright had a chance to read pertinent material by Vicente Riva Palacio.
All this material sums up for us the official version of the facts as they were registered by the Inquisition with a pedantic devotion only to be compared with that of the German scribes of the Third Reich. Both of them in equal manner, annotated with terrifying accuracy even those aspects that would incriminate them one day in the unavoidable and implacable judgement of history. They also added to the files those unique documents personally written by the victim itself. By manner of contrast the play also includes quotes from the Bible, of which Carvajal had a thorough knowledge and which he frequently mentioned in the course of his trials. The author believes it would have been highly unlikely for him not to quote the Bible and other sacred writings also in his private life, as in the case of the Song of Songs when he speaks to Justa Méndez.
Almost all characters are historically authentic. In some of them others are condensed, who for their large numbers would have overpopulated the stage. Luis de Carvajal always appears with the name adopted by himself, that is to say: Joseph Lumbroso. This same family name was also adopted by two of his brothers who survived the persecution of the Holy Office. One of them became a famous Rabbi in Saloniki, Greece. Don Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, the uncle of our protagonist, was indeed the Governor of the New Kingdom of León. Also with their real names appear the parents of Joseph Lumbroso, Rodríguez de Matos and Doña Francisca, as well as his sisters and brothers: Isabel, Catalina, Leonor, Baltasar, Gaspar, Miguel and Anica, as well as Justa Méndez, engaged to Joseph, the inquisitors Lobo Guerrero, Bonilla, Sanctos García, Pedro de los Ríos, Alonso de Peralta, Gaspar de Valdés and Gaspar de los Reyes, the Spanish Viceroy, the spies, etc.
Internationally wellknown Argentinian composer Osías Wilenski has composed a grand opera in two acts, based on the drama "Carvajal" by Jacobo Kaufmann. The opera is now ready for performance. Composed along politonal lines, with inspired melodies and powerful ensembles, its production will be a true challenge for everybody involved, singers, conductor, stage director and designers. Over the years of their successful careers, respectively in the musical field and opera staging, both authors have acquired a vast experience, allowing them to take into consideration the many aspects of opera performing, its vocal demands and visual possibilities, as well as breaking new ground in musical and dramatic language.
Piccolo (also flute 3); 2 flutes;2 oboes;English horn; 2 B flat clarinets;bass clarinet in B flat (also clarinet 3);2 bassoons;contrabassoon;4 horns in F;4 trumpets in C;4 trombones; Tuba;4 timpani;1 timpani piccolo;2 harps;celesta;Glockenspiel;xylophone; marimba; bells (one player).
Percussion (4 players min.);gran cassa;piatti (pair);suspended cymbal; piatti piccolo; military drum;snare drum;tenor drum;Tam-Tam (very low);gong (high);anvil;claves;castagnettes;triangle;rattle;whip;4 cowbells (different sizes);2 Tom-Toms (one small, one large); whistle;sand block;Güiro;tambourine;Cocus;2 wood blocks (small and large); gran cassa piccola;wind machine.
Strings: Violins 1; violins 2; violas; violoncelli; contrabassi.
Off-stage music: 3 C trumpets; 3 trombones; organ; 2 tubular bells; 2 Spanish guitars.
The dramatic action
Act one begins with the appointment of Don Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva by King Philip II, as Governor and Captain General of the Territory of New León (all of today's Mexico and part of the present day U.S.A.). In the following scene Don Luis convinces his family to join him in his voyage. Despite the Carvajal's hesitations they agree to his proposal to go to the New World, to settle and prosper there. The governor plans to name his nephew Luis de Carvajal (the Younger) to inherit him.
In a flash back we now find the young man dressed as a penitent, writing his memoirs. In a moment of divine inspiration he changes his name to that of Joseph Lumbroso, the Enlightened one. When the scene changes, we see the envious Viceroy Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza intriguing against Don Luis. He is immediately arrested by the Inquisition.
His niece Isabel de Carvajal is arrested too, accused of "judaizing". The Inquisition interrogates and tortures her on the rack, until she reveals the names of other family members secretely practising the Jewish religion. They all are arrested, including Joseph Lumbroso, his mother Doña Francisca and his sister Catalina.
The first inquisitorial interrogation of Lumbroso follows. We now move to Joseph's cell, where he has mystic visions. In another scene he is formally accused of professing and practicing Judaism. At the same time Joseph has visions and conversations removed in time, with his father Rodríguez de Matos and his brother Baltasar.
After another scene, in which an inquisitorial sentence is pronounced against Joseph Lumbroso, we see him, again removed in time, studying the Bible by the Panuco river. In a moment of extreme ecstasy he performs his own circumcision. Far away in the distance we hear a lullaby and consolation song performed by his beloved Justa Méndez and a female choir.
Doña Francisca is being led into the torture chamber. Joseph prays to God, that He may protect his mother. The inquisitors also torture Lumbroso's sisters., and Joseph "confesses" his sins, in order to alleviate theirs and his mother's suffering.
In another flash back we witness the supper and celebrations of the Passover holiday, commemorating the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. All of the Carvajal family members participate. The festivity takes place in an imaginary time, prior to their voyage to Mexico.
Back at the inquisitorial torture chambers Joseph continues "confessing" before his interrogators. They warn him not to cover up for other Jews. Joseph Lumbroso is sentenced to life imprisonment, meaning forced labor and eventual parole. His uncle, the Governor has died in his cell. The other members of the Carvajal family become "reconciled" with the Church.
Act two begins with a scene at the San Hipólito Mártir Convalescent Hospital, where Joseph must serve his life sentence. Surrounded by madmen and other sick people Joseph must perform the most degrading jobs. Amidst great noise and yelling arrives a carriage with goods confiscated by the Inquisition from its detainees. The madmen jump on the carriage trying to loot as much as possible.
Joseph Lumbroso has recovered a relative freedom. At the Carvajal's home the Shabbat celebrations are underway. Justa Méndez greets him with a joyful song upon his release. Temporarily free from prison, Joseph begs his brother Baltasar to escape to Italy with their little brother Miguel. Left alone after supper, Justa and Joseph declare to each other their mutual love and eternal brotherhood, quoting from King Solomon´s Song of Songs.
We now see a simultaneous scene. On one side of the stage the Inquisition's prosecutor demands the incarceration and execution of all the Carvajals and of many of their friends. On the other side Joseph preaches and performs the Jewish prayers surrounded by his kin. Another change. Again at the Inquisition Joseph has visions of his family in the world to come. Suddenly we hear the cries of tortured women bringing him back to reality.
Joseph Lumbroso sings and dances in his cell, yearning to die for the glory of God. Answering to new accusations of his incarcerators, who bring and show him his own book of Memoirs as evidence, Lumbroso proclaims his Judaism loudly. He sings and dances before the inquisitors. They are furious and Joseph defies them with resounding laughter.
Lumbroso´s sisters and mother are crying and praying in their cell. Suddenly they and Justa Méndez receive from him a message of consolation hidden in the prisoner's food.
Now follows a discussion in the interrogation room, in which Joseph argues with his oppressors with great authority and courage. They threaten him with torture, to force him to give away the names of other Jews. When Joseph refuses, he is subjected to cruel and prolonged torment. Finally, in extreme pain, Lumbroso submits to his interrogators a long list with the names of other clandestine Jews. Completely desperate he tries to commit suicide by throwing himself through a window. Still alive but badly hurt, the inquisitors present him with a formal accusation, and Joseph hands to them his written Testament, which is the summary of all his beliefs and an expression of his unbreakable faith in the God of Israel.
Joseph is sentenced to the stake. On his way to the scaffold the fanatic crowd insults and attacks him. In this instance his oppressors try to convert him to Christianity, to "soften" his execution. Tied to a post Joseph for the last time preaches to his family and other fellow Jews. He rejects the green cross offered to him by the Inquisition only a few moments before his supreme sacrifice.
In a final chorus the victims proclaim their Jewish faith and their belief in one only God. The flames consume them. The crowd, the church hierarchy, and the secular officials disperse. Suddenly the victims seem to revive out of their ashes. The spirit and love for the Almighty have definitely triumphed over the Inquisition´s perversity.