|Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)|
Then there was Monteverdi, who also wrote an opera on the Orpheus and Euridice theme. His opera is now commonly known as Orfeo and was first performed in 1607. The opera was written for Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, who lived in Mantua. Monteverdi wrote the music of the opera, but a man named Alessandro Striggio wrote the words. Striggio was an aristocrat and part of an academy of gentlemen dedicated to the arts called the Accademia degli Invaghiti ('academy of the lovestruck' or 'people fascinated by something'). Monteverdi was the court composer in the Gonzaga court, and as such was a mere employee, not eligible for the Accademia!
The Accademia was behind the production of Orfeo, and the Duke's brother Prince Francesco was its chief organizer. There was one performance for the gentlemen of the court, one for the ladies, and then...it was not performed again until the twentieth century. The score, however was published. This was unusual for the time, and lucky for us because it acts as an artifact.
- he used a variety of instruments in the orchestra to add color to the storytelling
- he used ritornellos, or repeating sections of music, throughout the opera to give the work unity
- he placed an overture at the beginning of the opera, but he called it the opening toccata.
Attendees of this opera would have been educated and they would have already known the Orpheus story. I'll catch up my 21st-century readers: Orpheus and Euridice got married, and she was bitten by a snake during their wedding reception and died. Orpheus went after her in the underworld. He used his lyre (a small harp) to lull the guardians. Euridice was allowed to go with Orpheus, but the deal was he wasn't allowed to turn around and look at her until they got all the way home. Orpheus was okay with this, and they started home. Euridice did not know about the agreement and wondered why Orpheus would not turn around or even answer her. She figured he no longer loved her and said so--he turned around--and she slipped back into the darkness of Hades. In the Monteverdi/Striggio version of the story, Apollo intervenes and takes Orpheus to heaven. (This was a Christian influence.)
After Monteverdi, the center of opera innovation moved around Italy for a bit, and then settled in Vienna where Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote an opera blockbuster called...Orfeo ed Euridice...