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Mary of Nazareth, the Musical

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 10, 2008

A new musical on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary will debut at the Vatican in Paul VI Hall on June 17th. The musical is being jointly sponsored by a number of Italian organizations, including the Italian Senate, and also by the Pontifical Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Social Communications. This marks the first time a work of this character has had official Vatican sponsorship.

Directed by Maria Pia Liotta, who was an actress in Italy in the 1980’s, the musical will feature Liotta’s daughter, operatic soprano Alma Manera, who is also an actress and former Miss Italy contestant. The music was written by Stelvio Cipriani, a jazz pianist and composer who has been writing film scores since the 1960’s. Cipriani was given his first music lessons by his pastor on the church organ, studied at the Conservatory of St. Cecelia, and has composed music for Pope John Paul II. The production includes some forty actors, a dozen ballet dancers and the orchestra of the Calabrian Theater “Francisco Cilea” (named for a famous Italian composer who died in 1950).

The production seeks to emphasize Mary’s continuing relevance for people today, and so it is entitled “Mary of Nazareth: A Continuing Story”. When Archbishop Claudio Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, announced the musical today, he stated: “"We are all aware that Mary is known for her role in the life of Christ the Lord and in the life of the Church, but it pleases me to highlight how she has presented and communicated to us the Word of God made flesh among men…. It is Mary who continues to carry out this role—in the world and in the Church—of communicating her Son to men.”

A statement released by the producers (AIRAM: Cultura e Comunicazione) notes that the musical does take “some poetic license” in telling the story of Mary as daughter, spouse and mother, but emphasizes that it does so without misinterpreting Scripture. In order to ensure fidelity, the producers employed Father Stefano Di Fiores, a Marian theologian, to oversee the musical’s doctrinal content. Father Fiores was surprised by the interest of the media in the musical, and he sees it as a work that may appeal not only to Christians but to Muslims, who also revere the mother of Jesus. “Mary is truly the most famous woman in history,” said Fr. Di Fiores, noting that the Blessed Mother has “filled art with her person” as well as inspiring countless souls in several different religions.

“If we wonder how we should respond to a God who reveals himself,” Fr. Di Fiores continued, “we cannot but go to Mary, who is…an example of the Lord's poor and an example of total self-giving to God…. We respond through faith, and Mary is blessed because she believed.” He also urged audiences to take a cue from Pope Benedict’s second encyclical, viewing Mary as the “star of hope” that reflects the light of Christ, who “with her ‘yes’ opened the door of our world to God himself.”

The priest noted that the musical takes a contemporary approach, concerning itself less with the “glories of Mary” and more with “Mary, woman of our days” who is close to us:

This line of ‘humanization’ of the figure of Mary is perceived in the musical Mary of Nazareth according to the intuition of Maria Pia Liotta, who with extreme sensitivity, has captured the need to bring the figure of the Virgin closer to our time, showing her historical image of humble Jewish woman.

Fr. Di Fiores emphasized that the production does not trivialize Mary, but enables the audience to “perceive her mystery as a woman who lives according to the rhythm of God and of His Word”, singing “Your voice is my life.”

This is a bold new undertaking in which Catholic audiences can expect to find both a moving story and a reverent treatment of the Mother of God. After their Vatican opening, the cast will undertake an international tour, beginning with Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. It is not clear whether or when the musical will be performed in English-speaking countries, which may well depend on its success elsewhere. CatholicCulture.org intends to follow the progress of the production and to keep readers informed.

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