Meeting 1, Term 1, February 10th
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
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
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.
Most novel was the opera’s blending of old
and new music. Musicologist Robert
[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)
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.