Histoires Sacrées

Histoires Sacrées • Marc-Antoine Charpentier


In the corpus of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s works, his Histoires sacrées constitute a set apart, of great beauty, of which the scores have been preserved, without knowing very well where and how they were performed. Mostly sung in Latin, with a limited number of musicians and singers, they can be imagined as small sacred operas telling the edifying story of these saints and martyrs that we know without knowing them, that we meet in churches or museums, whose strength or gentleness we imagine in front of a painting by Zurbaran or Philippe de Champaigne.

Judith, Madeleine or Cécile: their names evoke biblical episodes, mythical lands – “beyond the mountains of the city of Bethulia” for Judith – their destinies embody virtues, of which they have been allegories for the Church for centuries. Their history is exemplary, their existence remote, but through Charpentier’s music, the feelings they express, joy, doubts or suffering, seem intact. Perhaps even more than the painting that shows us their faces and their metaphorical attributes, their song resurrects and actualizes emotions that can make them our contemporaries.

Were these works intended to be performed outside of church services? There is much evidence to suggest this, although no formal context could be identified. The purpose of these stories was to contribute to the spiritual edification of those who had the rare privilege of attending them: it was a matter of choosing figures whose stories resonated with the audience. Everything in the music calls for theater: the presence of characters and a narrator, the tensions that arise between them, the group oppositions. Far from any attempt at historical reconstitution, it is the representation of the sacred that is at the heart of these Histoires de Charpentier.

Vincent Huguet, thanks to a light contemporary scenographic device, links these three women in struggle against power, gods and men and the passions that drive them.

Concert available in show version – directed by Vincent Huguet

Reprise in August 2021 with the support of la vie brève – Théâtre de l’Aquarium.


Marc-Antoine Charpentier
O Sacramentum H.274
Judith sive Bethulia H.391
In Odorem Unguentorum H.51
Magdalena Lugens H.343
Caecilia Virgo et Martyr H.397
Sub tuum Praesidium H.28