Wednesday 24 February 2021

favola in musica

The early Baroque adaptation of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by composer Claudio Monteverdi and librettist Alessandro Striggio premiering on this day in Mantua in 1607 to ring in Carnival season and L’Orfeo is considered one of the first true and fully developed operas.

Presented in five acts, action is split between the fields of Thrace and the Underworld and follows the legendary musician and poet whose song is all to charm all things (speaking to virtuosity of the collaboration, I suppose)—even the stones and beating the Sirens as part of the Argonaut crew beat the Sirens at a sing-off to save them from wrack and ruin—fell in love with the beautify and graceful Eurydice (Wide Justice) and lived a happy but short time together. Calling upon Hymen, the god of matrimony, to bless their union but was foretold that the marriage was to end in tragedy. Fleeing from a lusty shepherd called Aristaeus, Eurydice was bitten by a serpent and died instantly—causing Orpheus great sadness and his outpouring moved the whole world and the heavens towards grief and sorrow. Resolving to descend into Hades to visit his wife, Orpheus was able to tame the fierce Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hell that prevents the living from entering the realm of the dead. Hades and Persephone, impressed by his playing and devotion, tells Orpheus he can take Eurydice with the caveat that he cannot look upon her until they’ve emerged into the light of day, lest he loose her forever. As a reasonable and patient individual, Orpheus was confident that he could resist temptation and rescue his wife, but as a disembodied shade, Eurydice’s footfalls made no sound, and thinking he was fooled by Hades, turned to check after her. Zeus strikes down the mourning Orpheus with lightning, fearful he might reveal the secrets of the Underworld.