O Numi eterni! (La Lucretia)
Cantata (HWV 145)
for soprano (c’-b’’flat) & bc
Handel’s chamber cantata O Numi eterni! which was given the title ‘La Lucretia’ by Handel himself, is unusual in that it is one of Handel’s earlier essays in this genre, probably dating to 1706, before his arrival in Rome. It does not have the more rigorous alternation of recitative and aria characteristic of later cantatas. This cantata recalls, in her own voice, the tragic story of Lucretia, who was raped by a member of the Tarquin family; as she is not avenged, she finally takes her own life to expunge her own dishonour. The event is said to have sparked the revolution that saw the overthrow of the Tarquin dynasty and the establishment of the Republic.
Lucretia thus suffers extreme emotional anguish, torn between the two sorts of retribution. The looser structure of the work is illustrative of the passionate and dramatic elements of the monologue. After the first two pairs of recit. and aria, the form becomes much looser, with the succeeding recit. dissolving into a passage marked furioso, expressive of the seething emotion of the heroine. This passage is followed by a fragment of recit. as Lucretia prepares to take her own life, but this again dissolves into another passage of arioso as she reiterates her feeling of guilt over her loss of honour. In the following recit. she begs the forgiveness of her family and Rome; this is followed by a passage which Handel himself marked Arioso, in which she takes the sword to herself. This breaks suddenly into a final furioso in which she swears as she dies to wreak revenge on the tyrant from hell itself.