Cantata for Primo Levi

In nine stations

Text by Emilio Jona

Freely adapted from the writings of Primo Levi

Music by Andrea Liberovici


Why is this night different from all other nights?

Why are we so many tonight, while yesterday we were so few?

Why is everybody leaning on elbows, listening attentively?

Why on this night must we eat the bread of joy?

Why on this night must we eat the herb of affliction?

Why on this night do we drink wine that does not erase our memory?


And the Lord told Noah:

Build yourself an arc of resinous wood

and cover it inside and out with boiled linseed oil

And the Lord told to the daughters of Zion:

I will make your heads bald

will cover them with shame

take away all your ornaments

amulets and balms

of boiled linseed oil

For centuries it has been the raw material

Of the noble and ancient art of paint makers

today my art is made of these subtle deceptions

it translates or hides,

preserves or leads

objects and bodies


Have you ever seen through the fog

the peak of Babelturm?

It ascends  through blindness and frost

from the land of hate

into the wind of discord

its bricks are named







In this tower founded

on the confusion of the word

on a curse offered

to heaven as challenge

we hated the demented dream of our masters.

IV –  STAWAČ       

It’s not even a command, but a sound

subdued and terrible


Born before sunrise

Nobody awaits it asleep


Like a stone at the bottom of the soul

it falls

Out of the frail shell of sleep

over us naked

to the offense of the day that begins

a day so long

that one cannot conceive its end

… Stawač …

V –  JAWOHL       

…then it was the turn of Sòmogyi

fever overtook him

and as long as he kept his consciousness

did not say a word

in the ruggedness of silence

he shut himself off

But in the evening

following a last dream of forgivness

began to murmur


with the release of each breath






like a machine ….Jawohl…

at any surge of his poor ribs


We would have liked to suffocate

or shake him so that he

would at least change the word






at every breath


How belabored the dying of a man!


…now he was near to us

he could not speak

he was a nothing, a child

of Auschwitz

Two sticks for legs

and an emaciated face still alive where

his terrible eyes watched with assertiveness and pain

In his gaze

breaking the tomb of silence

words pressed wildly

Until one night from the corner where he lied

a sound exploded and finally a word: Hurbinek

Since that night, every night

anxious to understand

we listened to him in silence

this obscure and stubborn experiment of his

until he was spent

Was  it a message, perhaps a question, was it his name?

He fought like a man

To conquer a place for himself

In the world that had excluded him

He fought until the last breath

And died

free but not redeemed

Nothing testifies for him

nothing remains but a word, Hurbinek

VII – JUDI’    

Good evening Primo of Turin

water is not wine

wine is not water

Sukkot is not Pesach

Pesach is not Sukkot

land is not money

money is not land

peace is not war

war is not peace

kale is not spinach

spinach is not kale

Jews are not Goyim

Goyim are not Jews

Bizarre is the dialect of our fathers

scattered among peoples

like them, hidden, skeptical, and accommodating

with an affectionate smile

dignified and confident in God

“Baruch,Baruch Abbà…” Welcome….

The fair is not the community

the community is not the fair

the brick is not the stone

the Stone is not the brick

the train is not a thunder

the thunder is not the train

the priest is not the rabbi

the rabbi is not the priest

Boré peri hagafen (blessing of the wine)

give me something to drink


Do you know us?

We are the sheep of the ghetto

a thousand years of shearing

a thousand years of resignation to the offence

we are tailors, scribes, and


withered in the shade of the crosses

We have learned

the routes of the forest

we disappear and hold right

Our voice has changed

If I am not for myself

Who will be for me?

If not this way, how?

If not now, when?

Do you recognize us?

We are the children of David

stubborn on the mountains of Masada

each grabbing onto the stone

that engraved Goliath’s forehead

Through the chimney of Sobibor

our brothers rose

digging graves in the air

We alone survived

for the honor of a people that drowned

to witness and to avenge

so that nothing shall be lost

If I am not for myself

who will be for me?

If not this way, how?

If not now, when?


It was then that the words

surrounded Primo

grateful for the ancient trust

of committing to them

the order of the world

They were all there

the harsh ones and the obsessive

the lost ones and the affectionate

the found ones and the familiar

those without a subject

the hostile and the wise

Words that defeated matter

reluctant enemy

those which fought against the ferociousness

of time

words that knew

that our same face and our blood

carried the murderers

Words that knew the

irreparability of the offense

words that descended

from the pale blood of a people

of prolific patriarchs

and visionary rabbis

Words of dream and of awakening

words that went along with roads,

stops, stations,

handled like stones

taken from the earth of which we are made

the word that saves from horror

the word that saves from not understanding

or from the fatigue of remaining

sane in insanity

the word closer to the dead than to the living

and the one that felt the guilt of survival

All in front of him

they bowed

terrible and loving.

he collected them like a gift

and remained silent

limpid and gloomy.