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Christmas at Corpus Christi Church

Gesu' Nato at Corpus Christi Church (photo courtesy of Lori Andican)
Gesu' Nato at Corpus Christi Church (photo courtesy of Lori Andican)

The Academy of Sacred Drama and the American Classical Orchestra presented a celebration of Christmas at Corpus Christi Church in Harlem, NYC, performing Vespers in the Season of Christmas by Antonio Giannettini and Gesu’ Nato, A Christmas Oratorio, by Antonio Bencini.

Antonio Giannettini - Tito Manlio - title page of the libretto - Reggio 1701. Public Domain

Antonio Giannettini – Tito Manlio – title page of the libretto – Reggio 1701. Public Domain

Giannettini, who was born in 1648, was a bass singer, organist, writer and composer. While at the court of Francesco II, Duke of Modena, he wrote 9 oratorios, but much of the music to these pieces has been lost through the centuries. It was a treat to experience this magnificent presentation from a profoundly talented composer from his era.

Conductor and Artistic Director Thomas Crawford opened the concert, saying, “There isn’t a note you will recognize; this is a modern group of Christmas music.”


Artistic Director Jeremy Rhizor told the audience to expect “a tremendous variety of music like a Christmas Eve service at the Vatican in the 1700s.”

We can celebrate that both men with wide-ranging resumes bring imaginative music for us to enjoy.

Sung in Italian by bass Dominic Inferrera, alto Guadalupe Peraza, soprano Linda Tsatsanis, tenor Tommy Wazelle, bass Peter Becker, and soprano Amaranta Viera, this dramatic work was produced with excepts from The Magnificat and five psalms. It featured a complex combination of chorus, instruments, solo movements, and a vocal duet.

Pietro Paolo Bencini, caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi,1734. Public Domain

Pietro Paolo Bencini, caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi,1734. Public Domain

String instruments were prominently featured throughout the piece, and the church provided perfect acoustics for vespers the audience soon revered. The audience was alerted to expect no intermission, just a short retuning of instruments, and Bencini’s Gesu Nato followed.

Bencini’s Christmas Oratorio was rediscovered in the Vatican archives, and although it was well presented, the two-part presentation was too long without a break. The audience appeared confused by the shepherds and other characters roaming the church aisles. The Arias were long and tedious, with little rise and fall in the music.

Tsatsanis, Maroney, and Guerrero gave superb performances during the lengthy Prima and Seconda Parte, telling the story of the blessed birth of Jesus through the gift of song. Their three voices were angelic and powerful, like the heavenly angels who came down to Earth to announce the arrival of our dear Lord.

Common sense seems to dictate that the Christmas Oratorio should be presented alone, in its two-part form but with an intermission, for the listening pleasure of the audience and the compelling story it tells. We should not overlook the immense work that went into writing this rediscovered Italian musical piece.

The standing ovation at the end of the program praised the hard work of all who performed during the evening’s program and the joy of the music and season.



Gesu’ Nato presented by the Academy of Sacred Drama and the American Classical Orchestra at Corpus Christi Church, with Dominic Inferrera, Guadalupe Perza, Linda Tsatsanis, Tommy Wazelle, Amaranta Viera, and Peter Becke. Artistic Directors are Thomas Crawford and Jeremy Rhizor. Press by Pascal Nadon Communications.

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The American Symphony Orchestra and Händel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Peter & the Wolf by Works & ProcessTranscendent Triumph and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2Musica Sacra at Carnegie HallThe Orchestra Now at Symphony Space, and The New Jersey Ballet at the Mayo Arts Center.

Christmas at Corpus Christi Church

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