Judith: A biblical drama from mediŠval Croatia
(a performance with surtitles)

Featured performers
Katarina Livljanic, voice, direction Albrecht Maurer, fiddle,lirica Norbert Rodenkirchen, flutes

Sanda Herzic, staging, scenography and costumes Marie Bellot lighting design

Date 2 November 2008 Venue UBC Recital Hall

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson


Like Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf, the setting for Judith is archaeology brought to life by a vividly musical imagination. Using period melodies and Glagolitic (Church Slavonic) chant Katarina Livljanic has ‘reconstructed’ an intense and compelling work.

The text is chiefly the poem by Marco Marulic, the great Croatian nationalist poet of the early 16th century, once much better known in the west than now. Henry VIII was influenced by his writings. It tells the Apocryphal story of Judith and Holofernes largely from the point of view of Judith herself. Into this text, Katarina Livljanic has inserted two Agonies or dialogues, also from the 16th century. In these the mind speaks with the soul. In the first Judith steals herself to kill Holofernes and in the second Holofernes, his head cut off, reflects on his life and on death. These interpolations humanize the characters and in giving Holofernes a voice widen the scope of the drama.

Improvization, according to the programme, is at the heart of the music. This was improvisation raised to a high art. All three musicians were so attuned and so responsive to one another they seemed as one, none dominant, all equally necessary. Playing a selection of early and Croatian folk instruments, Norbert Rodenkirchen, flautist and medievalist and Albrecht Maurer, string player, jazz musician and specialist in improvization, followed every nuance of Katarina Livljanic’s very powerful, flexible voice.

The music is rich and opulent in sound with long, hypnotic lines. The use of modes, historical tunings and the early instruments created an exotic context for the drama. Livljanic’s subtle interpretations of the story kept the audience rivetted. Using mostly song with very effective spoken or half-spoken passages, Livljanic’ unrolled Judith’s story with awful inevitibility, her firm and unbending character reflected by the supreme confidence of the singer.

Elegantly simple staging and costumes by Sanda Herzic and clever lighting (Marie Bellot) underpinned the performance.

© 2008 Elizabeth Paterson