Sunday, February 23, 2014

Claudio Monteverdi - L'Orfeo

Image via Il Wik
Country music flirts with telling epic stories, but opera is defined as epic stories.  This isn't an accident: opera grew out of the Renaissance desire to recreate ancient Greek theater, where the Chorus (and maybe all parts) were sung.  The stories told in the early operas were solely from the ancient Greek and Roman canon.  The use of these stories was common in the late 16th Century, and in fact Shakespeare is full of them (Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus).

The oldest couple of operas are lost to us, but in 1607 along came Claudio Monteverdi, and suddenly opera was not just here to stay, but so was Baroque.  Monteverdi was instrumental in the birth of both forms, and had an enormous reputation during his lifetime at the time as one of the greatest composers.  But after Monteverdi's death in 1643 this opera was forgotten.  It was rediscovered by a musicologist and revived in 1904, nearly three centuries after its first performance.

L'Orfeo tells the tale of Orpheus, a tale from the ancient Greek Mystery Religions where Orpheus - the greatest musician of the Age - descends to Hades to attempt to bring back his bride Eurydice.  While the musical style appears overly formal to those of use used to letting our musical hair down with Puccini and Wagner, it's very likely similar to the style of the ancient  world.  It is in an case the oldest opera you are likely to ever see performed, as it gets rolled out fairly regularly, as you see in this performance from the Opernhauses Zürich.

1 comment:

libertyman said...

Not sure I could sit through that one.

Thanks for the lesson as always, someone new to learn about.