Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607)

Meeting 1, Term 1, February 10th

Our Production and others

We will be playing excerpts from this classic early production from Zurich which tries to recreate the way it was performed in Monteverdi’s time. Here’s a review of it. View the complete production on Youtube.  To compare, look at a modern version (only Italian) from Teatro Goldoni di Firenze or from La Capella Reial de Catalunya.

A new form of music, a

new form of drama

Where does L’Orfeo belong in the story of music? Limelight discusses the question.  See also our page on Monteverdi. By 1607 when L’Orfeo was first performed, the tradition of a musical intermezzo in a play was being overtaken by the invention of a complete drama set to music or "opera". L'Orfeo was new because it fully embraced this idea. Does the opera form make the character? Go here  for a fascinating comparison of Monteverdi’s and Gluck’s Orpheus character. Did the emphasis on recitative in the former, and aria in the latter create different versions of the character - demi-god or human? Then go here for Janet Baker’s version of Gluck’s most famous aria, ‘Che faro senza Euridice?’ (“What shall I do without Eurydice?”). L’Orfeo also radically used 41 instruments to represent scenes and characters. Details of the instruments are here, with images.
Thus strings, harpsichords and recorders represent the pastoral fields of Thrace with their nymphs and shepherds, while heavy brass illustrates the underworld and its denizens. Composed at the point of transition from the Renaissance era to the Baroque, L'Orfeo employs all the resources then known within the art of music, with particularly daring use of polyphony. (Wikipedia) Most novel was the opera’s blending of old and new music.  Musicologist Robert Donington concludes [The score] contains no element which was not based on precedent, but it reaches complete maturity in that recently- developed form ... Here are words as directly expressed in music as [the pioneers of opera] wanted them expressed; here is music expressing them ... with the full inspiration of genius. (Wikipedia)

Hollywood ending?

About that sort-of-happy ending – unlike the original myth, in which Orpheus is destroyed by revengeful women. Here’s a scholarly but entertaining analysis of the versions.
Find the anachronism