Suor Cristina Scuccia is an Italian nun who stunned Italy (and at one remove, the world) with her powerful singing voice. (A Youtube playlist of her songs from the The Voice can be found here.) She has now released her first single since winning the competition: a cover of Madonna’s Like a Virgin:
The result is quite stunning, turning the song into an extended meditation on the singer’s own religious vocation. The video juxtaposes Suor Cristina singing in ways that express rapturous prayer with images of the churches of Venice, reinforcing her Italian, Catholic identity. (One of the things which made her such a success was that even while belting out rock and pop tunes, she never pretended to be other than she was: a nun in a sensible habit who took her faith and her vocation seriously.) It both captures the raw sexuality of the original while at the same time transforming and spiritualising it.
For readers unfamiliar with the original song, it can be found here. It is worth comparing the two videos. The original is also filmed in Venice, though much more use is made of the canals and bridges (and the occasional palazzo) than of churches or other religious architecture. However, though secondary and often ambiguous, Catholic imagery does appear. Fr. Andrew Greeley, the American sociologist (and occasional gadfly) argued persuasively that Madonna’s art was infused with, as he put it, a Catholic sensibility. (See, for instance, his detailed analysis of Madonna’s Like a Prayer.) I think some evidence for this comes from the fact that Suor Cristina is able to reinterpret the song so easily: if there was not already a Catholic substrate to the lyrics, it would take a great deal more work, including revisions, to make it into a Catholic song. Nevertheless, I would not push too deep a reading onto Madonna: it is only in the hands of Suor Cristina that a deeper, vibrantly sensual and spiritual meaning of the lyrics has been found.
Suor Cristina, in an interview with L’Avvenire, a publication of the Italian Church, described her motivation and interpretation of the song as follows:
I chose it. With no intention to provoke or scandalize. Reading the text, without being influenced by previous interpretations, you discover that it is a song about the power of love to renew people. To rescue them from their past. And this is the way that I wanted to interpret it. For this reason we have transformed this song from the pop-dance piece which it was, into a romantic ballad, a bit like the ones by Amos Lee. Something more similar to a lay prayer, than to a pop piece.
After my life living in slutville, most of which was also lived with the mind of a fundamental protestant voice telling me how impure I was, it was very hard to me to understand that I was still good. Not in my actions, but in my being. God created me good. Not just to be good. There was no way that I could ever earn or work for His forgiveness. It is a Grace. Confession is about healing, not about earning anything. It is about taking personal responsibility for the things that I am responsible for, hearing about the things that I am not responsible for and so that the words of forgiveness can enter my ears and heal my heart.
This post was triggered by a more mixed response (mostly questioning the artistic merit) at Barefoot and Pregnant. My colleague, Mark Silk, gives a brief analysis, drawing a brief but interesting parallel with Suoer Sourire, a Belgian nun who came to prominence during the Second Vatican Council. The sedevacantist website Novus Ordo Watch, perhaps predictably, reacts badly. (Sidenote: I had thought that “Trigger warnings” were the domain of left/liberal academics, but one appears in this article.) A similar response is given by a blogger who is decidedly opposed to Pope Francis. A parody (in Italian) has already appeared. (Unfortunately, my Italian is not up to giving even a rough translation.)
In a nutshell: I like this version of the song, and I like Suor Cristina, both as a musician and as a representative of Catholicism. She captures the best of what I think the new evangelization is called to do: engage with the world in a language it can understand, while moving the world closer to Christ. In this I think she mirrors on a broader stage the work of Fr. Michel-Marie in the slums of Marseilles.
What do you think of the song and of Suor Cristina?