Opera Scotland

Orfeo La Favola d’Orfeo; The Legend of Orpheus

Music
Claudio Monteverdi (born Cremona, 15 May 1567; died Venice, 29 November 1643)

Text
Alessandro Striggio (c1573-1630).

Source
Earlier libretto Euridice (1600) by Ottavio Rinuccini (1552-1621) set by Jacopo Peri (1561-1633).

Premieres
First performance: Mantua (Palazzo Ducale), 24 February 1607.
First UK performance: London (Institut Français), 8 March 1924 (concert).
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (George Square Theatre), 7 February 1968.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Background
Monteverdi’s Orfeo is the earliest opera to be performed regularly in modern times. Unlike his late masterpieces Poppea and Ulisse, Orfeo was composed for performance in a private, aristocratic household. Also, it comes thirty years earlier in the development of the art. While it is therefore in some ways simpler, it also shows how rapidly the operatic form developed at this time, and its combination of choruses, dances and moving solo utterance still makes for an effective and convincing evening. Since the development of the original instrument movement, it has had several professional productions in Scotland. The marvellously simple and stylish 1977 Kent Opera staging by Jonathan Miller and Roger Norrington was by far the best. This was followed in 1978 by the Zurich Opera’s Monteverdi cycle of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, which was perhaps not a total success, although Orfeo had fewer eccentricities of staging than the other two. The more recent Gilbert Deflo and Jordi Savall staging of 2007 was an attempt to produce something comparable to the original, despite performing in a big, modern theatre.

Main Characters
La Musica (soprano)
Orfeo (tenor)
Euridice (soprano)
Messaggiera (soprano)
Speranza (soprano)
Caronte (bass)
Plutone (bass)
Proserpina (soprano)
Apollo (tenor)

Plot Summary
In a Prologue, Music announces that she can stir all kinds of emotion from delight to acute misery. She introduces Orpheus, whose special musical talent could pacify wild animals and convince Hell to give up its dead. Nymphs and shepherds celebrate the marriage of Orpheus and Euridice. Later, a Messenger breaks the news that Euridice has died. Orpheus resolves to make his way to the Underworld in an attempt to rescue her, and is encouraged by Hope. When he reaches the river Styx, he soothes Charon to sleep with his song and is able to cross the river to the Underworld. He then convinces Pluto and Proserpine to allow him to take Euridice back to earth. A condition is imposed, that he must not look back at her or speak to her until the end of the journey. He keeps to this until within sight of the light, but glances back to ensure she is there and loses her again. Orpheus’s heartbroken response is followed by the consolations of Apollo to the effect that he will meet her among the immortals.

The Cast

Apollo
 
Caronte
 Charon, ferryman to the Underworld
Eco
 Echo
Euridice
 
Messaggiera
 a messenger
Musica
 
Ninfa
 a Wood Nymph
Orfeo
 
Pastore I
 First Shepherd
Pastore II
 Second Shepherd
Pastore III
 Third Shepherd
Pastore IV
 Fourth Shepherd
Plutone
 Pluto, Lord of the Underworld
Proserpina
 wife of Pluto
Speranza
 Hope
Spirito I
 First Spirit
Spirito II
 Second Spirit
Spirito III
 Third Spirit

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