Favola in musica in one prologue and five acts (1607)
Libretto by Alessandro Striggio
Concert performance in Italian
Tuesday, 22 February 2022, 7 pm
In the 16th century the Florentine Camerata set itself the aim of reviving ancient Greek tragedy. These nobles, having received a humanist education, assumed that the dramas of Antiquity had been sung. Consequently, they studied the relationship between language and music. They favoured material in which sung text appeared plausible, and there is no figure to whom this approach is better suited than the singer Orpheus. In 1607 the Academia degli invaghiti in Mantua commissioned the composer Claudio Monteverdi, who was in the employ of the Duke of Mantua, to create a musical drama about Orpheus. The writer Alessandro Striggio put together the libretto for Monteverdi which had as it central theme Orpheus’s song of supplication to the gods of the Underworld. For the relationship between text and music Monteverdi found a progressive solution that was to shape the future of opera. He defined two levels of dramatic singing: on the one hand recitative for general dialogue, and on the other musically self-contained forms for those moments when the focus was to be on the music. He succeeded in reinforcing the emotional impact of the text with musical means, thereby providing the decisive spark for the birth of a genre that originated from a mistake: dialogue in the theatres of ancient Greece was spoken, not sung. At the centre of Monteverdi’s favola in musica is the eponymous hero. From the joys of deep and true love he is plunged into complete despair by the death of Eurydice, whom he has only just married. Orpheus refuses to accept this terrible misfortune, but after causing the irrevocable loss of his wife himself he is left utterly alone. With the prologue and the finale, Monteverdi shows how completely he trusts in the music of this new theatrical genre. While the personification of music appears at the beginning to announce Orpheus’s deeds, it is his father Apollo, the god of music, who intervenes in the plot at the end, and together the two of them ascend, singing, to the heavens where Orpheus will see Eurydice’s likeness again in the sun and the stars.