L'Orfeo: Favola in Musica

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L'Orfeo is the telling of the Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice, and how Orpheus descended into Hades to try to bring back his bride. If Monteverdi's L'Orfeo wasn't the very first work that today we call "opera" (the name wouldn't be invented for another century), it certainly is the oldest that is still performed. It is considered the first great opera. You may note some differences with later operas in song styling and instrumentation, but this was written a century before Mozart's time, so this is early in the evolution.

This version is realised by Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalonia Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona, 2002.

Performers:

  • Montserrat Figueras (Music)
  • Furio Zanasi (Orfeo)
  • Arianna Savall (Eurydice)
  • Sara Mingardo (The Mensajero)
  • Cécile van Sant (The Hope)
  • Antonio Abete (Charon)
  • Adriana Fernandez (Proserpina)
  • Daniele Carnovich (Pluto)
  • Fulvio Bettini (Apollo)
  • Marília Vargas (Ninfa)
  • Garrigosa Francisco, Carlos Mena, Gerd Türk, Iván García (Pastores / Espíritus)

ARGUMENT: The action takes place in Greece and the subterranean regions of the world of spirits, a mythical antiquity.

Prologue

After a brass instrumental introduction in D major, Music appears, praising those present and urging them to remain silent, as the story of Orpheus, son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope is told.

ACT I. The Scene is at the Tomb Of Eurydice.

The Greek singer and poet Orpheus is grieving sorely for the loss of his wife  Eurydice, who has died. His friends and admirers gather round and condole with him on his loss, till he, unable to endure the company of men, entreats them to depart and leave him alone with his grief.

When all have left him he reproaches Destiny and the Gods, and proclaims his intention of seeking his beloved Eurydice among the shades of the departed and rescuing her from Pluto's dark realm.

Love appears to him, and promises to aid him and to restore his wife to his arms on condition that he shall not look back after he has found Eurydice, but lead straight on out of Hades to the upper world, which he faithfully promises, and the act ends with his delight at the prospect of seeing and embracing his loved one once again.

ACT II. The Gates of Erebus

The Demons and Spectres are whirling in an infernal dance when Orpheus enters playing on his lyre.

His grief and the exquisite pathos with which he expresses it softens the hearts of the Demons, who cause the great gates to open and allow him free passage to the infernal kingdom, which he enters singing sweetly to his lyre.

ACT III. Elysium

Orpheus enters to a crowd of happy spirits, who fade away as he appears, but re-appear at his entreaty, bringing the shade of Eurydice veiled.

A shadow dance is proposed, during which Orpheus discovers Eurydice by magnetic attraction, but does not look at her, and she follows him to the passage leading to the upper world.

ACT IV. A Dark Cavern Leading Out of the Realm of the Dead

Orpheus leads Eurydice by the hand, but never turns to her. Her jealousy is aroused and she reproaches him for his coldness, till, broken hearted, she falls on a rock as if dead. Orpheus gives vent to his grief, and draws his sword to slay himself, when Love appears and arrests his hand, touches Eurydice and awakens her from her swoon. The companions of Orpheus enter, and all is joy and congratulation.

NOTE. In the Orphic Mysteries Orpheus is the Sun, from whose warm, loving beams his spouse Eurydice, the Earth, is taken at the approach of night. He seeks her through the darkness, but cannot see her till the morning, when the vivifying power of nature, Love, restores her to him.

NPR: The Root of All Opera - Monteverdi's Orfeo

WikiPedia: Monteverdi's L'Orfeo