Battista – Libretto (English)

PART ONE

SAN GIOVANNI
Farewell, friendly woods,
pleasant havens of tranquil peace,
where I spent the happiest hours
of my day and lived joyfully,
detached from myself and from the World,
just to unite myself to Heaven.
Once you gave me shelter,
O dear and innocent woods,
and in the midst of my torments
you disclosed scenes of delight.

Blessed woods, farewell;
allow me, then, to leave you,
since Heaven itself leads me elsewhere.

CHORUS OF DISCIPLES
Where, O Baptist, where,
where will envious Fate take you from us?

SAN GIOVANNI
To court, to court.

ONE OF THE DISCIPLES
Stop, pray, stop your foot,
and with your foot check your thoughts too.
Stop, for it is not fitting
for one who finds himself in the harbour of innocence
to look for storms in which to be engulfed.

SAN GIOVANNI
I do not fear storms,
nor do I worry about the sea,
because God serves as escort
and pole-star to my ship.
Let the wrathful quaking
of the merciless north winds blow;
my faith will triumph.
Let the sea shriek with shouting and wailing;
even to the harshest billows
my soul will stand firm.

Stay, yes stay, O my companions.
Today Heaven has appointed me
to repel the darts of others’ errors.

CHORUS
Where, Baptist, where?
Alas, for there where only deceit and fraud hold sway,
one hears no utterance or truth.

COUNSELLOR
O, invincible Herod – you who wear
on your noble forehead an august crown
laden with magnanimous worries
rather than jewels and treasures –
it is surely time that, releasing the grip
of vexatious thoughts,
you rouse and animate the weary spirit.
Pray, lay down to rest
the huge mass of burdensome anxieties,
and bring relief to yourself and comfort to us!
The Prince’s life is of too great a concern to the kingdom.

HERODIAS
May those cares that oppress the heart
fly away from the breast;
may pain change to delight
and poison turn into ambrosia.
Nay, may the gentle smile return
to your lips with joyful serenity;
may April return with joy
and a gleam shine on your brow.

Yes, yes, answer the prayers
of your devoted subjects and of Herodias.

COUNSELLOR
In like manner Heaven’s fair charioteer,
after bringing the day,
accomplishes a full circle
and labours for our benefit.

But then, abandoning the starry path
of the Empyreans’ trails,
he takes sweet repose in the bosom of the sea.
You also, my Lord, who rule in this world,
take your cue from our king of the stars: do not busy yourself
if Heaven serves as an example to your movements.

SALOME
O deaf goddesses, who constantly weave
the golden thread for mortals,
lay down, lay down
your dismal, fatal scissors,
so that, if I humbly appeal
to your divinity with my mother,
the reason for my fair passion may last longer.

Let it never happen that
such sweet servitude should disperse;
nor that the heart should turn elsewhere
and my king no longer love.
May the desire that opened my breast
strike a new arrow;
I hope for balsam
from the band that wounded me.

HEROD
Enough, I yield, enough!
If first it was separated from us,
Let pleasure return, let laughter be beckoned.
Let the merriest dances
entwine with singing.
I shall take pleasure joyfully and festively
(if one who lives and loves can take pleasure joyfully).

TRIO
Let it never happen that
one should separate from such sweet servitude;
nor that the soul should turn elsewhere
and my king no longer love.

SAN GIOVANNI
No more, cease, no more!
Private error
has now become public
and, going beyond the mark,
moves Heaven, earth and God to anger.

HEROD
Who is the impious one who unleashes
his sacrilegious tongue with such rash boldness?
And who introduced him
into the royal abode, that he may come
to disturb my senses? Hey there, who are you?

SAN GIOVANNI
You recognise me well,
and at one time such free thoughts
were not unwelcome to you.
Listen, listen to the truth.
Change, o change, the course of your living!
Return, Herod, to yourself and restore
the customary sceptre to oppressed reason!
Make amends and show a sign of the high offence,
Prince of yourself and also of a kingdom!

COUNSELLOR
And do you, with such boldness,
assume for yourself the power
to judge the royal deeds?
Be quiet, madman! Do you not know
that whatever a king decides to pursue,
whether it is good or bad, always surpasses the law?

SAN GIOVANNI
Indeed the law of the eternal monarch
forbids it; hence the mortal prince
is not allowed to transgress it.
A man is not permitted,
against God’s precepts of honesty,
to retain his brother’s wife.
And you, sir, with your decrees
you cannot dissolve what God has joined!

SALOME
Most noble Lord, to whose supreme throne
every proud brow humbly stoops,
do you really endure and permit
that a base madman blight the royal spirit?
That he despise and abuse your divinity?

HEROD
My mighty right hand
will thunder amid a thousand whirlwinds!
With inflexible sentence
it will hurl darts and thunderbolts.
May the wretch be hidden away
from the rays of the world
in the deep bosom
of a dark prison!
And if ever
his follies laughed,
now let him learn to weep
from my vengeful anger.

QUARTET
May the guilty one be put to death!
And pay the penalty
for his rash boldness in harsh chains!

SAN GIOVANNI
If you, harsh chains,
are the welcome sign of death,
I will press on you a thousand kisses.

HEROD
He shall find out if this sceptre
can raise the humble and crush the proud;
Jove strikes out in Heaven, Herod on earth!

HEROD & SALOME (duet)
May he who
despised the wrath of my throne
restrain his pride.
May he experience rigours
if at my raging
he failed to be silent.
The bold butterfly
has climbed
too close to me:
for he has surely lost
his proud wings
near the highest spheres.

PART TWO

SALOME
Fair nymphs of the Jordan,
who move your feet in dance,
pray tell me if you rejoice
within your souls as much as I.
Even the enchanting, tremulous stars
continually dance in the sky,
but for this reason they do not outshine
my heart, which indeed they emulate.

COUNSELLOR
In truth, never again could fair Aurora
have so joyful a day in which
the memory of your birth
is venerated and honoured.
Even the sun, more than usually
surrounded with glowing rays,
seems to say to us humans:
“This is the day in which Herod was born.”

HEROD
O clearest light of my eyes,
dear Herodias,
ask whatever you want,
for your requests shall surely be answered.

SALOME
My Lord, from your goodness I ask for nothing else,
except that towards me be directed
a wealth sufficient to my desires.

HEROD
With such sweet manners
you capture the throne of my affections,
that I would consider it base to offer you
even half my kingdom as a gift.
Go, come back and make your request:
a magnanimous king who honours his servants
is always superior to the requests.

SAN GIOVANNI
Go on, take your pleasure
in the lap of pleasure, in the arms of the senses!
Blind mortals, burn your sacrifices
and incense to vain gods!

For my part I would not exchange –
so fixed are my wishes –
the happiness of others with my sufferings.
O welcome torments,
that shake the soul with harsh rigour,
you are welcome,
for you bring joy to this heart of mine.
For my part I would not exchange –
so fixed is my desire –
my prison with the freedom of others.

HERODIAS
Daughter, if you desire to acquire
a great treasure from the royal affection,
ask only for the Baptist’s proud head:
a gift greater than any empire.
For if his tongue is cut off
and falls to the ground,
Herod will become a trophy of our arms.
Whoever triumphs over a king enjoys the kingdom!

SALOME
Glorious sovereign,
concerning the gratifying invitation of your promises
I would like to desire
to seem submissive and not bold;
for my heart remains in equal fear
whether it stays silent or speaks.

HEROD
Speak out, I give you my faith, and swear
that a just person obtains from the power of Augustus
all that he requests.

SALOME
I wish only that the Baptist…

HEROD
… should have his freedom?

SALOME
I wish, yet fear…

HEROD
Nay, abandon all pause
and express your desire.

SALOME
I wish that he should die.

HEROD
Ah, you ask too much! And why do you ask it?
Within my heart I feel
the harsh resistance of mercy.

SALOME
He insulted you.

HEROD
But if he should be innocent?

SALOME
Guilty is he
who challenges the divinity of a king.

HEROD
(duet)
In the serenity of my happiness
my ship is assailed
by conflicting winds.
Resentment, love, mercy and anger
harshly mingle
within my aching, weary breast.

HERODIAS
In the serenity of your happiness
your ship is assailed
by conflicting winds.
Resentment, love, mercy and anger
harshly mingle
in your aching, weary breast.

SALOME
Delay no more, I pray, in satisfying the hope
of this afflicted heart,
which can no longer live if he,
who tramples on and stains its fair features, lives on!
It is enough to hear and see that monster
for the serenity of my brow
to relinquish its ivory and pink complexion.

These tears and sighs
that you see,
desire only, O my great king,
a little mercy.

HEROD
In this unsettled and violent
tempest of my affections,
cruelty has won: let the Baptist die!
Let him taste my vengeance
if he challenged my Divinity!
Heaven hardens his arrows
to punish the one who insulted him.
And if first the offended majesty,
joyous and calm, emits
rays of mercy, he then burns
with disdain and blazes.

The punishment of a single scoundrel is an example
to discourage a thousand wrongdoers.

SAN GIOVANNI
When will it be that death,
obedient to the orders of the tyrant king,
shoots the fatal arrow against me?
And that the spirit will fly
to its maker’s breast from its earthly prison?
My soul feels faint
at the mere thought
of contemplating
the eternal rays of the uncreated sun.

SALOME
(duet)
You shall die! You shall die!
Kill him, then! Ministers, to work!
Your fall will be
loved by the just and feared by the wicked.

SAN GIOVANNI
Kill me, then! Ministers, to work!
My fall will be
loved, not feared, by my heart.

SALOME
At last you have fallen, and your tongue,
soaked in your blood, will make it plain to others
that women still know how to avenge insults.

Come now; crown me
for the victory that has delighted me.
Come now, envelop me
with that glory that has adorned me.
Come now; cold cares,
remove yourselves from my palace!
Come now; pleasant desires!
My high faith is crowned with you.

HEROD
Who disturbs my repose
in the general rejoicing?
What hag or witch
troubles my soul and pierces my chest?
What fearsome trumpet
booms inside my breast with a menacing echo?
The voice of the Baptist
fills my heart with fright.
Alas! Repentance is the heir of error.

SALOME
(duet)
What bliss, what happiness
I feel and sense inside me!
The world never saw
a happier, more joyful day.
And why, tell me, why?

HEROD
What suffering, what torment
I feel and sense inside me!
The world never saw
a more unhappy, less joyful day.
And why?

English translation by Hugh Ward-Perkins