An Oratorio in Two Parts
Libretto by Najla Saïd
Chorus of Children
Chorus of Adult Men and Women
The premise for my latest oratorio, Zabur, is really very simple. A young poet, blogger and writer named Dawoūd (David) is stuck in a shelter with a group of men, women and children and also with his companion Jibreel (Gabriel) while the din of artillery surrounds them and their city. As a way of focusing his mind away from the unbearable sounds and endless grief Dawoūd takes to his writing. With parts of the city on generator power Dawoūd writes by candlelight but also has no way of sharing his writing with the world. The usual avenue of just publishing his words online is not available. The terror of daily life has become mundane. Dawoūd can only write music and poetry now: “songs of sorrow and sadness but also of praise and wonder”. The music and poetry cut to the core. They capture so immediately and acutely what the journalistic need to chronicle every last detail cannot seem to capture.
Not able to publish his creations online, Dawoūd is inspired to share them with the men, women and children of the shelter by his companion and muse Jibreel. Their voices rise in song.
Starting with this premise, Najla Saïd was able to construct a moving libretto that resurrects the legendary Middle Eastern figures of David and Gabriel into the contemporary Middle East. She humanizes Dawoūd and his psalms of sorrow, praise and wonder. The psalms are no longer relics but living human documents.
Zabur is the Arabic word for the Psalms and by setting the texts in Arabic we chose to return the Psalms to one of the original ancient languages of the Middle East.
Zabur is also a sort of war requiem. documents the tragedy of war and how war touches all human beings and, most notably, the children. The oratorio begins with a flash forward of the terrible outcry in the last moments of the people in the shelter as they meet a violent fate. But by the time that this premonition returns as the actual moment of destruction in Part II, they’ve been working and creating for some time so that when the bombs finally come and destroy the shelter, all the pages of their collective labor are left and a full final hymn has been created. Zabur ends with them all “rising up” to sing their last song together and Dawoūd’s eternal, resonating final lines. These lines allow the people to move beyond their confused, disastrous present and touch something timeless and eternal:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”
Mohammed Fairouz (2015)