The Chestnut Ball - The Fall of Lucrezia Borgia


Machiavelli tells the moritat of Rodrige Borgia - Pope Alexander VIth - sacred and secular overlord, Antichrist, how he seizes power without any of the traditional legitimation, expands, distorts, abuses and reasserts himself with his own laws, how he satisfies his sexual urges, lives out his fantasies and passions, raising them to utter excess, exploiting everyone around him without sustaining any damage himself, how he observes his ecclesiastical opponent Savanarola, ferrets out his weaknesses and exposes them, so as to get rid of him before his friend Martin Luther's eyes, how he exploits his son Cesare, who is his most important ally, since he consolidates the power of the Borgias with the utmost intensity and brutality. His sister too is dependent on her father, whom she loves idolatrously; her pathological jealousy and fear of possibly losing him lead her to become his paramour. Since she can't displace Giulia Bella, she tries to get closer to her, falls in love, gratifies Giulia's sexual inclinations, despairs at this one-sided love, is destroyed, seeks protection from her brother, gives herself to him too. Savanarola gets to know the very young, handsome Martin Luther, who understands his theses to the depths of his soul, falls in love with Luther, and ends up on the pyre he had erected to burn erotic paintings. For Luther, he becomes a martyr. Alexander VI cares neither about his daughter Lucrezia nor his son Cesare, he has already forgotten Savanarola and also Luther. Everything around him is meaning less apart from the Kastanienball [Chestnut Ball], where finally, at the climax of the festivities, candlesticks are placed under the table, and naked girls gather the chestnuts lying on the floor with their lips, and deposit them on his lap. And Giulia la Bella sings "The great song of Indifference".

The "true" live story of Alexander VIth and Lucrezia has been an inspiration for numerous works throughout the history of literature and music: Victor Hugo's "Lucrèce" influenced Gaetano Donizetti writing his opera "Lucrezia Borgia". Werner Schröter directed the film "Das Liebeskonzil" based on Oskar Panizza's theatre play. The political career of Alexander's son Cesare himself was the direct model for Nicolo Machiavelli's "Il Principe", which also might have been the base for the movie "Fahrenheit 451" by François Truffaut. Friedrich Maximilian Klinger brings Lucrezia and Faust together in "Fausts Leben, Thaten und Höllenfahrt" [Faust's life, actions and journey to hell]. And already in the 16th century Andreas Hondorff creates in his "Promptarium Exemplorum" a meeting between Alexander and Faust. Wolfgang Goethe's Gretchen is based on the "historical" Lucrezia as well as the beautiful Helena and Lucrezia are one and the same person, too. Faust's Helena in Gotthold Ephraim Lessings "Zauberpalast der Liebe" [Magic palace of love] is Lucrezia. But all these stories also involve the literary historical reproduction of the character Alexander, symbol of lies, the damnation and the corruption, the devil, the Antichrist and the Pope; whereas Lucrezia becomes the typification of the innocence of the holy virgin and the seducer Eve in one person. She is the immaculate woman who makes men's salvation possible. She – like Virgin Mary – has no evil in her and is the symbol of love, trust and purity. In contrast, her second ego – Eve – is the archetype of a fallen woman and consequently the cause of men's suffering. Already in 1501 Silvio Savelli, a critic of Alexander's live style who lived in political exile at the court of emperor Maximilian, received an anonymous letter from Rome slandering Lucrezia as a witch, an opinion that can also be found in Johannes Burchardus's diary.

 

Besides literary appearances of Alexander Pope and Antichrist and the innocent Lucrezia, also historically hardly known facts play a center role in the Kastanienball [The Chestnut Ball]. Martin Luther never met Savonarola in person, he became the first publisher of Savonarola's last records which the latter had written in prison before his execution. After Alexander's death, whose burial service had been celebrated without any official salute, Pius IIIrd– an enemy of the Borgia family – succeeded for only few days, followed by Julius IInd (Pope from 1503-1513) who tried to regain the political power of the church against Spain and France. The next pope Leo Xth (Pope from 1513 - 1521), son of Lorenzo de' Medici (Machiavelli wrote "Il Principe" for his family), shared Alexander's fondness of art, wine, women and luxury. He was able to finance his decadent lifestyle through sales of letters of indulgences, one of the most important reasons for Martin Luther to announce his propositions on October 31, 1517, the same day on which the Kastanienball had been celebrated [North America is still celebrating this Druid festival called Halloween in the last October night]. Hadrian VIth (Pope from 1522 - 1523) was not able to solve the problems of the reformation and after Clemens VIIth (Pope from 1523 - 1534), Giulia la Bella's brother became Pope Paul IIIrd in 1534, the same year Luther launched his first German bible (Alexander had already consecrated Giulia's brother bishop in 1499). Luther's works and the Borgia family are inseparable connected to each other. Though the works of John Wycliff (1320-1384), who translated the bible into English, and Jan Hus (1369- 1415) have influenced Luther's actions, the influence of Girolamo Savonarola was temporal closer and way more direct and has been the main power for Martin Luther's try to reform the church.

The Kastanienball is the story about the fall of Lucrezia Borgia and the fade of Girolamo Savonarola. The text of the play is influenced by Nicolo Machiavelli's "Il Principe", Wolfgang Goethe‘s "Gretchen am Spinnrad" [Ur-Faust], Marcellus Schiffer's "Ich hab mir jarnischt bei jedacht!", Martin Luther's propositions and the last records of Girolamo Savonarola. Adaptions and original compositions recomposed for the piece build the musical framework of this "improvised opera". According to Stefan Winter's concept all the musicians and actors should develop their roles as individual creatures and not rely too much on stage direction. This album is the result of a wonderful, devoted, personal collaboration of all artists involved in the realisation of this project, regardless of their musical roots. Everybody gives an important impact. …And if anybody wonders why Richard Wagner's Lohengrin is played during Alexander's abuse of a sex doll, "The great Dictator" has the answer.

Egidio da Viterbo wrote "Aurum, Vis et Venus imperabat" – "Gold, Power and Venus ruled" – about the pontificate of Alexander VIth and dedicated these words also to Leo Xth's term of office.

 

- Stefan Winter


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