Claudio Monteverdi  
Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi, circa 1597, by an anonymous artist, (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). Thought to be the earliest known image of Monteverdi, at about age 30, painted when he was still at the Gonzaga Court in Mantua.

"The end of all good music is to affect the soul."

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi, (baptized May 15, 1567, Cremona, Duchy of Milan [Italy]—died Nov. 29, 1643, Venice), Italian composer in the late Renaissance, the most important developer of the then new genre, the opera. He also did much to bring a “modern” secular spirit into church music.

Early career
Monteverdi, the son of a barber-surgeon and chemist, studied with the director of music at Cremona cathedral, Marcantonio Ingegneri, a well-known musician who wrote church music and madrigals of some distinction in an up-to-date though not revolutionary style of the 1570s. Monteverdi was obviously a precocious pupil, since he published several books of religious and secular music in his teens, all of them containing competent pieces in a manner not far from that of his master. The culmination of this early period occurred in two madrigal books published by one of the most famous of Venetian printers in 1587 and 1590. They are full of excellent, attractive works, somewhat more modern in approach than Ingegneri’s, perhaps the result of studying the madrigals of Luca Marenzio (1553–99), the greatest Italian madrigalist of the time, and others. As yet, however, Monteverdi’s aim appeared to be to charm rather than to express passion; it is exemplified at its best in such a madrigal as the well-known setting of the poem “Behold the Murmuring Sea” by Torquato Tasso.

The Gonzaga court

It is not known exactly when Monteverdi left his hometown, but he entered the employ of the duke of Mantua about 1590 as a string player. He immediately came into contact with some of the finest musicians, both performers and composers, of the time. Most influential on him seems to have been the Flemish composer Giaches de Wert, a modernist who, although no longer a young man, was still in the middle of an avant-garde movement in the 1590s. The crux of his style was that music must exactly match the mood of the verse and that the natural declamation of the words must be carefully followed. Since he chose the highly concentrated, emotional lyric poetry of Tasso and Tasso’s rival Battista Guarini, Wert’s music also became highly emotional, if unmelodious and difficult to sing. It had an immediate effect on Monteverdi, whose next book of madrigals, published in his first year at Mantua, shows the influence of the new movement on him, though his understanding was imperfect. It represented a complete change of direction for him. The melody is angular, the harmony increasingly dissonant, the mood tense to the point of neurosis. Guarini is the favoured poet, and every nuance of the verse is expressed, even at the expense of musical balance.

The new style and ambience seems to have upset his productivity. Although he went on composing, he published little for the next 11 years. In 1595 he accompanied his employer on an expedition to Hungary and four years later to Flanders. In about 1599 he married a singer, Claudia Cattaneo, by whom he had three children, one of whom died in infancy. When the post of maestro di cappella, or director of music, to the duke became vacant on the death of Wert in 1596, Monteverdi was embittered at being passed over, but in 1602 he achieved the position, at the age of 35. He published two more books of madrigals in 1603 and 1605, both of which contain masterpieces. The avant-garde manner was now better assimilated into his idiom. While his aim was still to follow the meaning of the verse in great detail, he solved the purely musical problems of thematic development and proportion. Although the dissonances became more severe and the melody sometimes still more angular, the total effect was more varied in emotion and less neurotic. If Guarini’s eroticism stimulated a sensual musical style, Monteverdi often gave his mature madrigals a lightness and humour, seeing the essence of a poem rather than its detail.

It was the advanced musical means, especially the use of intense and prolonged dissonance, that provoked attacks by the conservatives on Monteverdi, who became a figurehead of the avant-garde group. The attacks by a Bolognese theorist, Giovanni Maria Artusi, in a series of pamphlets, made Monteverdi the most famous composer of the age and provoked him to reply with an important aesthetic statement of his view on the nature of his art. He disclaimed the role of revolutionary, saying that he was only the follower of a tradition that had been developing for the last 50 years or more. This tradition sought to create a union of the arts, especially of words and music, so that he should not be judged simply as a composer using conventional musical devices. Moreover, the artwork must be powerful enough to “move the whole man,” and this again might mean the abandonment of certain conventions. On the other hand, he declared his faith in another and older tradition, in which music was itself supreme, and which was, in effect, represented by the pure polyphony of such composers as Josquin des Prez and Palestrina. Thus, there were two “practices,” as he called them; and this view, which became immensely influential, was to prove the basis of the preservation of an old style in certain types of church music, as opposed to a modern style in opera and cantatas, a dichotomy that can be found well into the 19th century.

If the madrigals of this time gave him a reputation well outside northern Italy, it was his first opera, Orfeo, performed in 1607, that finally established him as a composer of large-scale music rather than of exquisite miniature works. Monteverdi may have attended some of the performances of the earliest operas, those composed by the Florentine composers Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini, and he certainly had written some stage music in previous years. In Orfeo he showed that he had a much broader conception of the new genre than did his predecessors. He combined the opulence of dramatic entertainments of the late Renaissance with the straightforwardness of a simple pastoral tale told in recitative, which was the ideal of the Florentines. His recitative is more flexible and expressive than theirs, based on the declamatory melody of his madrigals rather than on their theories about heightened speech. Above all, he had a greater gift for dramatic unity, shaping whole acts into musical units, rather than assembling them from small sections. He also showed a sense of matching the climaxes in the drama by musical climaxes, using dissonance, the singer’s virtuosity, or instrumental sonorities to create the sense of heightened emotion.

A few months after the production of Orfeo, Monteverdi suffered the loss of his wife, seemingly after a long illness. He retired in a state of deep depression to his father’s home at Cremona, but he was summoned back to Mantua almost immediately to compose a new opera as part of the celebrations on the occasion of the marriage of the heir to the duchy, Francesco Gonzaga, to Margaret of Savoy. Monteverdi returned unwillingly and was promptly submerged in a massive amount of work. He composed not only an opera but also a ballet and music for an intermezzo to a play. Further disaster occurred when the opera, L’Arianna, was in rehearsal, for the prima donna, a young girl who had been living in Monteverdi’s home, possibly as a pupil of his wife, died of smallpox. Nevertheless, the part was recast, and the opera was finally produced in May 1608. It was an enormous success. The score has been lost, except for the famous “Lamento,” which survives in various versions and is the first great operatic scena (i.e., a scene of especially dramatic effect, usually with arias).

After this enormous effort, Monteverdi returned again to Cremona in a condition of collapse, which seems to have lasted for a long time. He was ordered back to Mantua in November 1608 but refused to go. He eventually returned, but thereafter he hated the Gonzaga court, which he maintained had undervalued and underpaid him, though he gained a raise in pay and a small pension for his success with L’Arianna. He does not, however, appear to have been uncreative, though the music he wrote in the next year or so reflects his depression. He arranged the “Lamento” as a five-voiced madrigal and wrote a madrigalian threnody on the death of his prima donna. The sestina, published later in the sixth book of madrigals, represents the peak of dissonant, agonized music in this style. In a more vigorous vein, he wrote some church music, which he published in 1610 in a volume containing a mass in the old style and music for vespers on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mass was a remarkable achievement, a deliberate attempt to show that the polyphonic idiom was still possible when everywhere it was dying. Still more remarkable is the vespers music, a virtual compendium of all the kinds of modern church music possible at the time—grand psalm settings in the Venetian manner, virtuoso music for solo singers, instrumental music used for interludes in the service, even an attempt to use up-to-date operatic music to set the expressive, emotional words of the Magnificat. Yet, though this music is as “advanced” as possible, Monteverdi makes it an extension of the old tradition by using plainsong tunes—ancient unaccompanied liturgical chants—as the thematic material for the psalms and Magnificats. Above all, this is music of the Counter-Reformation; using all means, traditional and new, secular and religious, it is designed to impress the listener with the power of the Roman Catholic Church and its Maker.

Three decades in Venice

When the maestro di cappella—that is, the director of music—of St. Mark’s in Venice died, Monteverdi was invited to take his place, after an audition of some of his music in the basilica. He finally took up his appointment in the autumn of 1613.

He was appointed largely because the musical establishment of St. Mark’s was in need of an experienced director after some years of decline. The last of the native Venetian composers of any distinction, Giovanni Gabrieli, had recently died. Although Monteverdi had not been primarily a church musician, he took his duties extremely seriously and within a few years completely revitalized the music in the basilica. He hired new assistants (including two future composers of note, Francesco Cavalli and Alessandro Grandi), wrote much church music, and insisted on daily choral services. He also took an active part in music making elsewhere in the city, directing the music on several occasions for the fraternity of S. Rocco, an influential philanthropic brotherhood, on the annual festival of its patron saint.

His letters in those early years in Venice reveal a complete change in his state of mind from what it was in Mantua. He felt fulfilled and honoured, well (and regularly) paid, and he seems to have been reasonably prolific. He kept up his links with Mantua, largely because there was little chance of producing opera in Venice, while opportunities came quite regularly from the Gonzaga court. In his correspondence, a philosophy of dramatic music emerges that was not only to mold Monteverdi’s later work but also to influence the history of opera in general. The older type of opera had developed, on the one hand, from the Renaissance intermezzo—a short, static musical treatment, often allegorical and with scenery, of a subject from the play with which it was given, emphasizing the wishes of the gods; and, on the other hand, from the pastoral, with its highly artificial characterizations of shepherds and shepherdesses. Monteverdi, however, was increasingly concerned with the expression of human emotions and the creation of recognizable human beings, with their changes of mind and mood. Thus, he wished to develop a greater variety of musical means, and in his seventh book of madrigals (1619) he experimented with many new devices. Most were borrowed from the current practices of his younger contemporaries, but all were endowed with greater power. There are the conversational “musical letters,” deliberately written in a severe recitative melody in an attempt to match the words. The ballet Tirsi e Clori, written for Mantua in 1616, shows, on the contrary, a complete acceptance of the simple tunefulness of the modern aria.

His attempt to create a practical philosophy of music went on throughout the 1620s, leading to still further stylistic innovations. Following ideas derived from Plato, he divided the emotions into three basic kinds: those of love, war, and calmness. Each of these could be expressed by differing rhythms and harmonies. A further ingredient in his theories was a frank acceptance of realism—the imitating of the sounds of nature in various ways. All these ideas are to be found in his dramatic cantata, The Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda (1624), a setting of a section of Tasso’s “Gerusalemme Liberata.” In this work, the rapid reiteration of single notes in strict rhythms and the use of pizzicato—plucking strings—to express the clashing of swords show important steps forward in the idiomatic use of stringed instruments.

These trends were continued in a comic opera, Licoris Who Feigned Madness, probably intended for the celebrations of the accession of Duke Vincenzo II of Mantua in 1627. The score has been lost, but a sizable correspondence survives. At this time, Monteverdi suffered more anxiety since his elder son, Massimiliano, was imprisoned in Bologna, where he was a medical student, for reading books banned by the Inquisition. It took some months before he was finally cleared of the charge. In the same year, 1628, Monteverdi also fulfilled a commission to write music for the intermezzi to Tasso’s L’Aminta and for a tournament given in Parma in celebration of the marriage of Duke Odoardo Farnese to Margherita de’ Medici.

Monteverdi and his family seemed to have emerged unscathed from the plague that broke out in 1630, and Monteverdi himself took holy orders during this period. He wrote a grand mass for the thanksgiving service in St. Mark’s when the epidemic was officially declared over in November 1631. The “Gloria” from it still survives and shows him applying some of the theories concerning the diversity of mood suggested by the words. Both this and some other church music probably written about this time, however, show a calm and majestic approach rather than the passion of his earlier years. A book of lighthearted songs and duets published in the following year is much the same. There is also a detached quality about much of the music in the final collection of his madrigals assembled by Monteverdi himself in 1638. A vast retrospective anthology of music dating from 1608 onward, it sets out to display Monteverdi’s theories, as its title, Madrigals of War and Love, denotes.

Though this collection, put together when Monteverdi was more than 70 years old, might seem the end of his career, chance played a part in inspiring him to an Indian summer of astonishing productivity: the first public opera houses opened in Venice in 1637. As the one indigenous composer with any real experience in the genre, he naturally was involved with them almost from the beginning. L’Arianna was revived again, and no fewer than four new operas were composed within about three years. Only two of them have survived in score—The Return of Ulysses to His Country and The Coronation of Poppea—and both are masterpieces. Although they still retain some elements of the Renaissance intermezzo and pastoral, they can be fairly described as the first modern operas. Their interest lies in revealing the development of human beings in realistic situations. There are main plots and subplots, allowing for a great range of characters—the nobility, their servants, the evil, the misguided, the innocent, the good. The music expresses their emotions with astonishing accuracy. Monteverdi shows how the philosophy of music evolved during his early years in Venice could be put to use, using all the means available to a composer of the time, the fashionable arietta (i.e., a short aria), duets, and ensembles, and how they could be combined with the expressive and less fashionable recitative of the early part of the century. The emphasis is always on the drama: the musical units are rarely self-contained but are usually woven into a continual pattern, so that the music remains a means rather than an end. There is also a sense of looking toward the grand climax of the drama, which inspires a grand scena for one of the main singers, Ulisse, Nero, or Poppea. At the same time, there are enough memorable melodies for the opera to seem musically attractive.

With these works Monteverdi proved himself to be one of the greatest musical dramatists of all time. That he was held in the highest esteem by his Venetian employers is shown by their gifts of money in these last years and by their granting him leave to travel to his native city in the last few months of his life. The Venetian public showed its esteem at his funeral, when after his death following a short illness, he was buried in the Church of the Frari, where a monument to him remains.

Denis Midgley Arnold

Encyclopædia Britannica

Monteverdi's works are split into three categories: madrigals, operas, and church-music.


Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked primarily on madrigals, composing a total of nine books. It took Monteverdi about four years to finish his first book of twenty-one madrigals for five voices. As a whole, the first eight books of madrigals show the enormous development from Renaissance polyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.

The titles of his Madrigal books are:

Book 1, 1587: Madrigali a cinque voci
Book 2, 1590: Il secondo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 3, 1592: Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 4, 1603: Il quarto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 5, 1605: Il quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 6, 1614: Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
Book 7, 1619: Concerto. Settimo libro di madrigali
Book 8, 1638: Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo, che saranno per brevi episodi fra i canti senza gesto.
Book 9, 1651: Madrigali e canzonette a due e tre voci

The Fifth Madrigal Book

The Fifth Book of Madrigals shows the shift from the late Renaissance style of music to the early Baroque. The Quinto Libro (Fifth Book), published in 1605, was at the heart of the controversy between Monteverdi and Giovanni Artusi. Artusi attacked the "crudities" and "license" of the modern style of composing, centering his attacks on madrigals (including Cruda Amarilli, composed around 1600)  from the fourth book. Monteverdi made his reply in the introduction to the fifth book, with a proposal of the division of musical practice into two streams, which he called prima pratica, and seconda pratica. Prima pratica was described as the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing strict counterpoint, prepared dissonance, and equality of voices. Seconda pratica used much freer counterpoint with an increasing hierarchy of voices, emphasizing soprano and bass. In Prima pratica the harmony controls the words. In Seconda pratica the words should be in control of the harmonies. This represented a move towards the new style of monody. The introduction of continuo in many of the madrigals was a further self-consciously modern feature. In addition, the fifth book showed the beginnings of conscious functional tonality.

The Eighth Madrigal Book

While in Venice, Monteverdi also finished his sixth (1614), seventh (1619), and eighth (1638) books of madrigals. The eighth is the largest, containing works written over a thirty-year period. Originally the work was to be dedicated to Ferdinand II, but because of his ill health, his son was made king in December 1636. When the work was first published in 1638 Monteverdi rededicated it to the new King Ferdinand III. The eighth book includes the so-called Madrigali dei guerrieri et amorosi (Madrigals of War and Love).
The important preface of Monteverdi’s eighth madrigal book seems to be connected with his seconda pratica. He claims to have invented a new “agitated” style (Genere concitato, later called Stile concitato).
The book is divided into sections of War and Love each containing madrigals, a piece in dramatic form (genere rappresentativo), and a ballet. In the Madrigals of War, Monteverdi has organized poetry that describes the pursuits of love through the allegory of war; the hunt for love, and the battle to find love. In the second half of the book, the Madrigals of Love, Monteverdi organized poetry that describes the unhappiness of being in love, unfaithfulness, and ungrateful lovers who feel no shame. In his previous madrigal collections, Monteverdi usually set poetry from one or two poets he was in contact with through the court where he was employed. The Madrigals of War and Love represent an overview of the poets he has dealt with throughout his life; the classical poetry of Petrarch, poetry by his contemporaries (Tasso, Guarini, Marino, Rinuccini, Testi and Strozzi), or anonymous poets who Monteverdi found and adapted to his needs.

Madrigals of War

1. Altri canti d’Amor tenero arciero (Let others sing of Love, the tender archer) anonymous sonnet
is preceded by a sinfonia introduction that is written for two violins and four viols. The madrigal that follows serves as an introduction to the first half of the collection and as a dedication to Ferdinand III.
2. Hor che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace (Now that the sky, earth and wind are silent) Sonnet by Petrarch,
is the first significant poetic work of the collection in which Monteverdi splits into two sections. In the first section, his poetry introduces the idea of the wars of love, in which he yearns for someone to love him.
"War is my condition full of anger and grief, and only when thinking of her do I find some peace."
In the second section, "Thus from a single bright and living fountain" (Cosi sol d’una chiara fonte viva) the symbolism of war continues:
"One hand alone cures me and wounds me. And, because my suffering never reaches its limits, a thousand times daily I die, and a thousand I am born, so far am I from my salvation."
3. Gira il nemico insidioso Amore (The insidious enemy, Love, circles the citadel of my heart) canzonetta by Strozzi
4. Se vittorie si belle han le guerre d’amore (If love’s wars have such beautiful victories) madrigal by Testi
5. Armato il cor d’adamanina fede (My heart armed with adamantine faith) madrigal by Rinuccini
6. Ogni amante e guerrier: nel suo gran regno (Every lover is a warrior: in his great kingdom) madrigal by Rinuccini
7. Ardo, avvampo, mi struggo, ardo: accorrete (I burn, I blaze, I am consumed, I burn; come running) anonymous sonnet
8. Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda) from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, Canto XII
was originally composed and performed at the home of Girolamo Mocenigo (1624)[29] and includes the dramatic scene in which the orchestra and voices form two separate entities, acting as counterparts. Most likely Monteverdi was inspired to try this arrangement because of the two opposite balconies in San Marco. What made this composition also stand out is the first-time use of string tremolo (fast repetition of the same tone) and pizzicato (plucking strings with fingers) for special effect in dramatic scenes.
9. Introduzione al ballo e ballo: Volgendo il ciel (Introduction to the ballet, and ballet) sonnet by Rinuccini

Madrigals of Love

1. Altri canti di Marte e di sua schiera (Let others sing of Mars and of his host) sonnet by Marino
the parallel work to Altri canti d amor, it serves as an introduction to the second half of the collection. Like its counterpart, it, too, is preceded by an instrumental sinfonia and contains a dedication to Ferdinand III.
2. Vago augelletto che cantando vai (Lovely little bird, who are you singing about?) sonnet by Petrarch
3. Mentre vaga angioletta (While a charming, angelic girl attracts every wellborn soul with her singing) madrigal by Guarini
4. Ardo e scoprir, ahi lasso, io non ardisco (I burn and, alas, I do not have the courage to reveal that burning which I bear hidden in my breast) anonymous madrigal
5. O sia tranquillo il mare o pien d’orgoglio (Whether the sea be still or swelled with pride) anonymous sonnet
6. Ninfa che, scalza il piede e sciolto il crine (Nymph, who with bare feet and hair undone) anonymous madrigal
7. Dolcissimo uscignolo (Sweetest nightingale) madrigal by Guarini
8. Chi vol haver felice e lieto il core (Whoever wishes to have a happy joyful heart) madrigal by Guarini
9. Non Havea Febo ancora: Lamento della ninfa (Phoebus had not yet: The Lament of the Nymph) canzonetta by Rinuccini
10. Perche te n fuggi, o Fillide? (Why do you run away, Phyllis?) anonymous madrigal
11. Non partir, ritrosetta (Do not depart, maiden averse to love) anonymous canzonetta
12. Su, Su, Su, pastorelli vezzosi (Come, come, come, charming shepherd lads) anonymous canzonetta
13. Il Ballo delle ingrate (Entrance and Final ballet of the Ungrateful Women)
The Ballet of the Ungrateful Women was originally composed for the 1608 wedding of Francesco Gonzaga and was revived in 1628 for a performance in Vienna.

The Ninth Madrigal Book

The ninth book of madrigals, published posthumously in 1651, contains lighter pieces such as canzonettas which were probably composed throughout Monteverdi's lifetime representing both styles.


During the last years of his life, Monteverdi was often ill. During this time, he composed his two last masterpieces: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1640), and the historic opera, L'incoronazione di Poppea, (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on an episode in the life of the Roman emperor Nero. The libretto for Il ritorno d'Ulisse was by Giacomo Badoarro and for L'incoronazione di Poppea by Giovanni Busenello.


Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas, but only L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, L'incoronazione di Poppea, and the famous aria, Lamento, from his second opera L'Arianna have survived. From monody (with melodic lines, intelligible text and placid accompanying music), it was a logical step for Monteverdi to begin composing opera. In 1607, the premiere of his first opera, L'Orfeo, took place in Mantua. L'Orfeo was not the first opera, but the first mature opera, or one that realized all of its potential. It was normal at that time for composers to create works on demand for special occasions, and this piece was part of the ducal celebrations of carnival. (Monteverdi was later to write for the first opera houses supported by ticket sales which opened in Venice). L'Orfeo has dramatic power and lively orchestration. L'Orfeo is arguably the first example of a composer assigning specific instruments to parts in operas. It is also one of the first large compositions in which the exact instrumentation of the premiere has come down to us. The plot is described in vivid musical pictures and the melodies are linear and clear. With this opera, Monteverdi created an entirely new style of music, the dramma per la musica or musical drama.


L'Arianna was the second opera written by Monteverdi. It is one of the most influential and famous specimens of early Baroque opera. It was first performed in Mantua in 1608. Its subject matter was the ancient Greek legend of Ariadne and Theseus.

Sacred music

Vespro della Beata Vergine

Monteverdi's first church music publication was the archaic Mass In illo tempore to which the Vesper Psalms of 1610 were added. The Vesper Psalms of 1610 are also one of the best examples of early repetition and contrast, with many of the parts having a clear ritornello. The published work is on a very grand scale and there has been some controversy as to whether all the movements were intended to be performed in a single service. However, there are various indications of internal unity. In its scope, it foreshadows such summits of Baroque music as Handel's Messiah, and J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion. Each part (there are twenty-five in total) is fully developed in both a musical and dramatic sense – the instrumental textures are used to precise dramatic and emotional effect, in a way that had not been seen before.

Messa in illo tempore (1610)
Mass of Thanksgiving (1631)[35]
Messa a 4 da cappella (1641) (also: Missa in F), part of Selva morale e spirituale
Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. (Mass for four voices, and Psalms …) (published posthumously, 1650)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Claudio Monteverdi in 1640 by Bernardo Strozzi

Monteverdi had a somewhat disrupted childhood. The son of a chemist who actually practised medicine (at that time an illegal act usually undertaken surreptitiously from small shops or stalls), he was born in Cremona, Italy, and had a brother and sister. Their mother, Maddalena, died when he was nine; their father's second wife when he was 16. The following year their father married a third time and finally became recognized by the Milanese authorities for his medical work. Despite these disruptions, Monteverdi received a good musical education under the cathedral's Maestro di Cappella. By the age of 15 he had already published a three-part motet, at 16 the first of his eight books of madrigals appeared, and the next year a book of his canzonettas.

At the age of 17 Monteverdi entered the service of the powerful Gonzaga family in Mantua as a string player. This rich and ornate court was then under the musical guidance of Flemish composer Giaches de Wert. Gradually Monteverdi grew in status, and eventually became part of the Duke of Mantua's travelling court on his military expeditions in Europe, particularly to Danube in 1595 and Flanders in 1599. De Wert died in 1596 and Monteverdi entertained hopes of taking his place as Maestro di Cappella, but this did not happen until 1601. Around this time, he married a court singer named Claudia, who bore him three children, two of whom survived.

In 1607 Monteverdi's opera La favola d'Orfeo (The Legend of Orpheus) was premiered at Mantua. Although Jacopo Peri had composed the first ever opera some years before, Monteverdi's was the first to use an array of instruments and to employ music as an integral feature or the work, rather than mere decoration. Unlike previous settings of the Orpheus legend, including one by Peri that Monteverdi would have studied, Monteverdi's work retained the original tragic ending — Orpheus losing Euridice when he looked behind him upon leaving the underworld. Also novel was Monteverdi's use of stringed instruments to represent the character of Orpheus, who is traditionally associated with the lyre.

Also in 1607 Monteverdi's wife died, a blow compounded by poverty, overwork, and illness. With an eye on a lucrative church appointment in Rome or Venice, Monteverdi attempted his first foray into sacred music with the famous Vespro della Beata Vergine, or Vespers, of 1610, a collection of movements notable for combining polyphonic vocal writing typical of the late Renaissance with newer Baroque techniques. These emphasized one melodic line combined with a well-defined bass, and increased the use of instruments.

Monteverdi's long-cherished ambition to leave the service of the Duke of Mantua was finally realized in 1612 when the Duke died. The following year Monteverdi was appointed Maestro di Cappella of St Mark's in Venice. There he gradually built up the standards of the choir, commissioned some important new-repertoire from leading composers, and himself composed a stream of sacred works for which he became renowned throughout Europe.

As Monteverdi grew older, his pace of work slowed, although he wrote the music for a Mass of Thanksgiving in 1631, celebrating the end of the plague that had ravaged Venice the previous year. In 1632 he was admitted to holy orders, and would probably have drifted from public attention had it not been for the opening in Venice of the first public opera house in 1637. This renewed his interest in opera, and towards the end of his life he composed Il ritomo d'Ulisse (The Return of Ulysses) and L'iucoroiia~ioiie di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea). These operas further developed the techniques used in La favola d'Orfeo, and featured characters that were recognizably human, rather than symbolic.

Monteverdi made one final visit to Cremona in 1643, and died in November of the same year, having just returned to Venice. He was buried in Venice in the vast Gothic basilica, the Frari, in a tomb at the very centre of the church, near that of the great Venetian artist Titian, whose masterpiece, the Assumption, towers above the high altar.

Monteverdi lived and worked in a period of change, as the late Renaissance was giving way to the Baroque. Although he eschewed revolutionary means, he encouraged this transition, and used his genius to develop and transform every aspect of music he came into contact with. The eight books of madrigals published in his lifetime, in which he introduced instrumental accompaniments and exploited to the full the dramatic possibilities of the medium, taken together with the I 'espers and his ground-breaking operas, confirm Monteverdi's crucial position in the history of music.



Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers)

Deus in adjutorium
Dixit Dominus
Laudate pueri
Nisi Dominus
Sonata Sopra Sancta Maria


La favola d'Orfeo



Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi

Altri canti d'Amor


Selva Morale e Spirituale

O Ciechi Ciechi!
E' Questa Vita Un Lampo
Dixit Dominus


Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre by Gustave Moreau (1865)
Claudio Monteverdi: "Orfeo"

L'Orfeo (SV 318), sometimes called L'Orfeo, favola in musica, is a late Renaissance/early Baroque opera by Claudio Monteverdi, with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio. It is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, and tells the story of his descent to Hades and his fruitless attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to the living world. Written in 1607 for a court performance during the annual Carnival at Mantua, L'Orfeo is one of the earliest music dramas still regularly performed.

Within the musical theatre at the beginning of the 17th century the traditional intermedio—a musical sequence between the acts of a straight play—was evolving into the form of a complete musical drama or "opera". Monteverdi's L'Orfeo moved this process out of its experimental era, and provided the first fully developed example within the new genre. After its initial performance the work was staged again in Mantua, and possibly in other Italian centres in the next few years. Its score was published by Monteverdi in 1609 and again in 1615. After the composer's death in 1643 the opera remained unperformed, and was largely forgotten until a revival of interest in the late 19th century led to a spate of modern editions and performances. At first these tended to be unstaged versions within institutes and music societies, but following the first modern dramatised performance in Paris, in 1911, the work was seen increasingly in theatres. After the Second World War most new editions sought authenticity through the use of period instruments.   Many recordings were issued, and the opera was increasingly staged in opera houses. In 2007 the quatercentenary of the premiere was celebrated by performances throughout the world.

In his published score Monteverdi lists around 41 instruments to be deployed, with distinct groups of instruments used to depict particular scenes and characters. Thus strings, harpsichords and recorders represent the pastoral fields of Thrace with their nymphs and shepherds; heavy brass illustrates the underworld and its denizens. Composed at the point of transition from the Renaissance era to the Baroque, L'Orfeo employs all the resources then known within the art of music, with particularly daring use of polyphony. The work is not orchestrated as such; in the Renaissance tradition instrumentalists followed the composer's general instructions but were given considerable freedom to improvise. This separates Monteverdi's work from the later opera canon, and makes each performance of L'Orfeo a uniquely individual occasion.
Historical background

Claudio Monteverdi, born in Cremona in 1567, was a musical prodigy who studied under Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di cappella (head of music) at Cremona Cathedral. After training in singing, strings playing and composition, Monteverdi worked as a musician in Verona and Milan until, in 1590 or 1591, he secured a post as suonatore di vivuola (viola player) at Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga's court at Mantua. Through ability and hard work Monteverdi rose to become Gonzaga's maestro della musica (master of music) in 1601.
Vincenzo Gonzaga's particular passion for musical theatre and spectacle grew from his family connections with the court of Florence. Towards the end of the 16th century innovative Florentine musicians were developing the intermedio—a long-established form of musical interlude inserted between the acts of spoken dramas—into increasingly elaborate forms. Led by Jacopo Corsi, these successors to the renowned Camerata were responsible for the first work generally recognised as belonging to the genre of opera: Dafne, composed by Corsi and Jacopo Peri and performed in Florence in 1598. This work combined elements of madrigal singing and monody with dancing and instrumental passages to form a dramatic whole. Only fragments of its music still exist, but several other Florentine works of the same period—Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo by Emilio de' Cavalieri, Peri's Euridice and Giulio Caccini's identically titled Euridice—survive complete. These last two works were the first of many musical representations of the Orpheus myth as recounted in Ovid's Metamorphoses, and as such were direct precursors of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.
The Gonzaga court had a long history of promoting dramatic entertainment. A century before Duke Vincenzo's time the court had staged Angelo Poliziano's lyrical drama La favola di Orfeo, at least half of which was sung rather than spoken. More recently, in 1598 Monteverdi had helped the court's musical establishment produce Giovanni Battista Guarini's play Il pastor fido, described by theatre historian Mark Ringer as a "watershed theatrical work" which inspired the Italian craze for pastoral drama. On 6 October 1600, while visiting Florence for the wedding of Maria de' Medici to King Henry IV of France, Duke Vincenzo attended a production of Peri's Euridice. It is likely that his principal musicians, including Monteverdi, were also present at this performance. The Duke quickly recognised the novelty of this new form of dramatic entertainment, and its potential for bringing prestige to those prepared to sponsor it.



Orpheus with a violin, by Cesare Gennari

Among those present at the Euridice performance in October 1600 was a young lawyer and career diplomat from Gonzaga's court, Alessandro Striggio, son of a well-known composer of the same name. The younger Striggio was himself a talented musician; as a 16-year-old, he had played the viol at the wedding festivities of Duke Ferdinando of Tuscany in 1589. Together with Duke Vincent's two young sons, Francesco and Fernandino, he was a member of Mantua's exclusive intellectual society, the Accademia degli Invaghiti, which provided the chief outlet for the city's theatrical works. It is not clear at what point Striggio began his libretto for L'Orfeo, but work was evidently under way in January 1607. In a letter written on 5 January, Francesco Gonzago asks his brother, then attached to the Florentine court, to obtain the services of a high quality castrato from the Grand Duke's establishment, for a "play in music" being prepared for the Mantuan Carnival.
Striggio's main sources for his libretto were Books 10 and 11 of Ovid's Metamorphoses and Book Four of Virgil's Georgics. These provided him with the basic material, but not the structure for a staged drama; the events of Acts 1 and 2 of the libretto are covered by a mere 13 lines in the Metamorphoses. For help in creating a dramatic form, Striggio drew on other sources—Poliziano's 1480 play, Guarini's Il pastor fido, and Ottavio Rinuccini's libretto for Peri's Euridice. Musicologist Gary Tomlinson remarks on the many similarities between Striggio's and Rinuccini's texts, noting that some of the speeches in L'Orfeo "correspond closely in content and even in locution to their counterparts in L'Euridice". Critic Barbara Russano Hanning writes that Striggio's verses are less subtle than those of Rinuccini, although the structure of Striggio's libretto is more interesting. Rinuccini, whose work had been written for the festivities accompanying a Medici wedding, was obliged to alter the myth to provide a "happy ending" suitable for the occasion. By contrast, because Striggio was not writing for a formal court celebration he could be more faithful to the spirit of the myth's conclusion, in which Orfeo is killed and dismembered by deranged maenads or "Bacchantes". He chose, in fact, to write a somewhat muted version of this bloody finale, in which the Bacchantes threaten Orfeo's destruction but his actual fate is left in doubt.
The libretto published in Mantua in 1607 to coincide with the premiere incorporates Striggio's ambiguous ending. However, Monteverdi's score published in Venice in 1609 by Ricciardo Amadino shows an entirely different resolution, with Orpheus transported to the heavens through the intervention of Apollo. According to Ringer, Striggio's original ending was almost certainly used at the opera's premiere, but there is no doubt that Monteverdi believed the revised ending was aesthetically correct. The musicologist Nino Pirrotta argues that the Apollo ending was part of the original plan for the work, but was not staged at the premiere because the small room which hosted the event could not contain the theatrical machinery that this ending required. The Bacchantes scene was a substitution; Monteverdi's intentions were restored when this constraint was removed.



Front cover of the 1609 published score of L'Orfeo

When Monteverdi wrote the music for L'Orfeo he had a thorough grounding in theatrical music. He had been employed at the Gonzaga court for 16 years, much of it as a performer or arranger of stage music, and in 1604 he had written the ballo Gli amori di Diane ed Endimone for the 1604–05 Mantua Carnival. The elements from which Monteverdi constructed his first opera score—the aria, the strophic song, recitative, choruses, dances, dramatic musical interludes—were, as conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt has pointed out, not created by him, but "he blended the entire stock of newest and older possibilities into a unity that was indeed new". Musicologist Robert Donington writes similarly: "[The score] contains no element which was not based on precedent, but it reaches complete maturity in that recently-developed form ... Here are words as directly expressed in music as [the pioneers of opera] wanted them expressed; here is music expressing them ... with the full inspiration of genius."
Monteverdi states the orchestral requirements at the beginning of his published score, but in accordance with the practice of the day he does not specify their exact usage. At that time it was usual to allow each interpreter of the work freedom to make local decisions, based on the orchestral forces at their disposal. These could differ sharply from place to place. Furthermore, as Harnoncourt points out, the instrumentalists would all have been composers and would have expected to collaborate creatively at each performance, rather than playing a set text.[19] Another practice of the time was to allow singers to embellish their arias. Monteverdi wrote plain and embellished versions of some arias, such as Orfeo's "Possente spirito", but according to Harnoncourt "it is obvious that where he did not write any embellishments he did not want any sung".
Each act of the opera deals with a single element of the story, and each ends with a chorus. Despite the five-act structure, with two sets of scene changes, it is likely that L'Orfeo conformed to the standard practice for court entertainments of that time and was played as a continuous entity, without intervals or curtain descents between acts. It was the contemporary custom for scene shifts to take place in sight of the audience, these changes being reflected musically by changes in instrumentation, key and style.


For the purpose of analysis, music scholar Jane Glover divides Monteverdi's list of instruments into three main groups: strings, brass and continuo, with a few further items not easily classifiable. The strings grouping is formed from ten members of the violin family (viole da brazzo), two double basses (contrabassi de viola), and two small violins (violini piccoli alla francese). The viole da brazzo are in two five-part ensembles, each comprising two violins, two violas and a cello. The brass group contains four or five trombones (sackbuts), three trumpets and two cornetts. The continuo forces include two harpsichords (duoi gravicembani), a double harp (arpa doppia), two or three chitarroni, two pipe organs (organi di legno), three bass viola da gamba, and a regal or small reed organ. Outside of these groupings are two recorders (flautini alla vigesima secunda), and possibly one or more citterns—unlisted by Monteverdi, but included in instructions relating to the end of Act 4.
Instrumentally, the two worlds represented within the opera are distinctively portrayed. The pastoral world of the fields of Thrace is represented by the strings, harpsichords, harp, organs, recorders and chitarroni. The remaining instruments, mainly brass, are associated with the Underworld, though there is not an absolute distinction; strings appear on several occasions in the Hades scenes. Within this general ordering, specific instruments or combinations are used to accompany some of the main characters—Orpheus by harp and organ, shepherds by harpsichord and chitarrone, the Underworld gods by trombones and regal. All of these musical distinctions and characterisations were in accordance with the longstanding traditions of the Renaissance orchestra, of which the large L'Orfeo ensemble is typical.
Monteverdi instructs his players generally to "[play] the work as simply and correctly as possible, and not with many florid passages or runs". Those playing ornamentation instruments such as strings and flutes are advised to "play nobly, with much invention and variety", but are warned against overdoing it, whereby "nothing is heard but chaos and confusion, offensive to the listener." Since at no time are all the instruments played together, the number of players needed is less than the number of instruments. Harnoncourt indicates that in Monteverdi's day the numbers of players and singers together, and the small rooms in which performances were held, often meant that the audience barely numbered more than the performers.


In his personaggi listed in the 1609 score, Monteverdi unaccountably omits La messaggera (the Messenger), and indicates that the final chorus of shepherds who perform the moresca (Moorish dance) at the opera's end are a separate group (che fecero la moresca nel fine). Little information is available about who sang the various roles in the first performance. A letter published at Mantua in 1612 records that the distinguished tenor and composer Francesco Rasi took part, and it is generally assumed that he sang the title role. Rasi could sing in both the tenor and bass ranges "with exquisite style ... and extraordinary feeling". The involvement in the premiere of a Florentine castrato, Giovanni Gualberto Magli, is confirmed by correspondence between the Gonzaga princes. Magli sang the prologue, Proserpina and possibly one other role, either La messaggera or Speranza. The musicologist and historian Hans Redlich mistakenly allocates Magli to the role of Orfeo.
A clue about who played Euridice is contained in a 1608 letter to Duke Vincenzo. It refers to "that little priest who performed the role of Euridice in the Most Serene Prince's Orfeo". This priest was possibly Padre Girolamo Bacchini, a castrato known to have had connections to the Mantuan court in the early 17th century. Monteverdi scholar Tim Carter speculates that two prominent Mantuan tenors, Pandolfo Grande and Francesco Campagnola may have sung minor roles in the premiere.

There are solo parts for four shepherds and three spirits. Carter calculates that through the doubling of roles that the text allows, a total of ten singers—three sopranos, two altos, three tenors and two basses—is required for a performance, with the soloists (except Orfeo) also forming the chorus. Carter's suggested role-doublings include La musica with Euridice, Ninfa with Proserpina and La messaggera with Speranza.


The action take place in two contrasting locations: the fields of Thrace (Acts 1, 2 and 5) and the Underworld (Acts 3 and 4). An instrumental toccata (English: "tucket", meaning a flourish on trumpets) precedes the entrance of La musica, representing the "spirit of music", who sings a prologue of five stanzas of verse. After a gracious welcome to the audience she announces that she can, through sweet sounds, "calm every troubled heart." She sings a further paean to the power of music, before introducing the drama's main protagonist, Orfeo, who "held the wild beasts spellbound with his song".

Act 1

After La musica's final request for silence, the curtain rises on Act 1 to reveal a pastoral scene. Orfeo and Euridice enter together with a chorus of nymphs and shepherds, who act in the manner of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action both as a group and as individuals. A shepherd announces that this is the couple's wedding day; the chorus responds, first in a stately invocation ("Come, Hymen, O come") and then in a joyful dance ("Leave the mountains, leave the fountains"). Orfeo and Euridice sing of their love for each other before leaving with most of the group for the wedding ceremony in the temple. Those left on stage sing a brief chorus, commenting on how Orfeo used to be one "for whom sighs were food and weeping was drink" before love brought him to a state of sublime happiness.

Act 2

Orfeo returns with the main chorus, and sings with them of the beauties of nature. Orfeo then muses on his former unhappiness, but proclaims: "After grief one is more content, after pain one is happier". The mood of contentment is abruptly ended when La messaggera enters, bringing the news that, while gathering flowers, Euridice has received a fatal snakebite. The chorus expresses its anguish: "Ah, bitter happening, ah, impious and cruel fate!", while the Messaggera castigates herself as the bearing of bad tidings ("For ever I will flee, and in a lonely cavern lead a life in keeping with my sorrow"). Orfeo, after venting his grief and incredulity ("Thou art dead, my life, and I am breathing?"), declares his intention to descend into the Underworld and persuade its ruler to allow Euridice to return to life. Otherwise, he says, "I shall remain with thee in the company of death". He departs, and the chorus resumes its lament.

Act 3

Orfeo is guided by Speranza to the gates of Hades. Having pointed out the words inscribed on the gate ("Abandon hope, all ye who enter here"), Speranza leaves. Orfeo is now confronted with the ferryman Caronte, who addresses Orfeo harshly and refuses to take him across the River Styx. Orfeo attempts to persuade Caronte by singing a flattering song to him ("Mighty spirit and powerful divinity"), but the ferryman is unmoved. However, when Orfeo takes up his lyre and plays, Caronte is soothed into sleep. Seizing his chance, Orfeo steals the ferryman's boat and crosses the river, entering the Underworld while a chorus of spirits reflects that nature cannot defend herself against man: "He has tamed the sea with fragile wood, and disdained the rage of the winds."

Act 4

In the Underworld, Proserpina, Queen of Hades, who has been deeply affected by Orfeo's singing, petitions King Plutone, her husband, for Euridice's release. Moved by her pleas, Plutone agrees on the condition that, as he leads Euridice towards the world, Orfeo must not look back. If he does, "a single glance will condemn him to eternal loss". Orfeo enters, leading Euridice and singing confidently that on that day he will rest on his wife's white bosom. But as he sings a note of doubt creeps in: "Who will assure me that she is following?". Perhaps Plutone, driven by envy, has imposed the condition through spite? Suddenly distracted by an off-stage commotion, Orfeo looks round; immediately, the image of Euridice begins to fade. She sings, despairingly: "Losest thou me through too much love?" and disappears. Orfeo attempts to follow her but is drawn away by an unseen force. The chorus of spirits sings that Orfeo, having overcome Hades, was in turn overcome by his passions.

Act 5

Back in the fields of Thrace, Orfeo has a long soliloquy in which he laments his loss, praises Euridice's beauty and resolves that his heart will never again be pierced by Cupid's arrow. An off-stage echo repeats his final phrases. Suddenly, in a cloud, Apollo descends from the heavens and chastises him: "Why dost thou give thyself up as prey to rage and grief?" He invites Orfeo to leave the world and join him in the heavens, where he will recognise Euridice's likeness in the stars. Orfeo replies that it would be unworthy not to follow the counsel of such a wise father, and together they ascend. A shepherds' chorus concludes that "he who sows in suffering shall reap the fruit of every grace", before the opera ends with a vigorous moresca.

Original libretto ending

In Striggio's 1607 libretto, Orfeo's Act 5 soliloquy is interrupted, not by Apollo's appearance but by a chorus of maenads or Bacchantes—wild, drunken women—who sing of the "divine fury" of their master, the god Bacchus. The cause of their wrath is Orfeo and his renunciation of women; he will not escape their heavenly anger, and the longer he evades them the more severe his fate will be. Orfeo leaves the scene and his destiny is left uncertain, for the Bacchantes devote themselves for the rest of the opera to wild singing and dancing in praise of Bacchus. Early music authority Claude Palisca believes that the two endings are not incompatible; Orfeo evades from the fury of the Bacchantes and is then rescued by Apollo.

Reception and performance history

Premiere and early performances

The date for the first performance of L'Orfeo, 24 February 1607, is evidenced by two letters, both dated 23 February. In the first, Francesco Gonzaga informs his brother that the "musical play" will be performed tomorrow; it is clear from earlier correspondence that this refers to L'Orfeo. The second letter is from a Gonzaga court official, Carlo Magno, and gives more details: "Tomorrow evening the Most Serene Lord the Prince is to sponsor a [play] in a room in the apartments which the Most Serene Lady had the use of ...it should be most unusual, as all the actors are to sing their parts." The "Serene Lady" is Duke Vincenzo's widowed sister Margherita Gonzaga d'Este, who lived within the ducal palace. The room of the premiere cannot be identified with certainty; according to Ringer, it may have been the Galleria dei Fiumi, which has the dimensions to accommodate a stage and orchestra with space for a small audience.
There is no detailed account of the premiere, although Francesco wrote on 1 March that the work had "been to the great satisfaction of all who heard it", and had particularly pleased the Duke. The Mantuan court theologian and poet, Cherubino Ferrari wrote that: "Both poet and musician have depicted the inclinations of the heart so skilfully that it could not have been done better ... The music, observing due propriety, serves the poetry so well that nothing more beautiful is to be heard anywhere". After the premiere Duke Vincenzo ordered a second performance for 1 March; a third performance was planned to coincide with a proposed state visit to Mantua by the Duke of Savoy. Francesco wrote to the Duke of Tuscany on 8 March, asking if he could retain the services of the castrato Magli for a little longer. However, the visit was cancelled, as was the celebratory performance.
There are suggestions that in the years following the premiere, L'Orfeo may have been staged in Florence, Cremona, Milan and Turin, though firmer evidence suggests that the work attracted limited interest beyond the Mantuan court. Francesco may have mounted a production in Casale Monferrato, where he was governor, for the 1609–10 Carnival, and there are indications that the work was performed on several occasions in Salzburg between 1614 and 1619, under the direction of Francesco Rasi. Years later, during the first flourish of Venetian opera in 1637–43, Monteverdi chose to revive his second opera, L'Arianna there, but not L'Orfeo. There is some evidence of performances shortly after Monteverdi's death: in Geneva in 1643, and in Paris, at the Louvre, in 1647. Although according to Carter the work was still admired across Italy in the 1650s, it was subsequently forgotten, as largely was Monteverdi, until the revival of interest in his works in the late 19th century.

20th-century revivals

After years of neglect, Monteverdi's music began to attract the interest of pioneer music historians in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and from the second quarter of the 19th century onwards he is discussed increasingly in scholarly works. In 1881 a truncated version of the L'Orfeo score, intended for study rather than performance, was published in Berlin by Robert Eitner. In 1904 the composer Vincent d'Indy produced an edition in French, which comprised only Act 2, a shortened Act 3 and Act 4. This edition was the basis of the first public performance of the work in two-and-a-half centuries, a concert performance at d'Indy's Schola Cantorum on 25 February 1904. The distinguished writer Romain Rolland, who was present, commended d'Indy for bringing the opera to life and returning it "to the beauty it once had, freeing it from the clumsy restorations which have disfigured it"—presumably a reference to Eitner's edition. The d'Indy edition was also the basis of the first modern staged performance of the work, at the Théâtre Réjane, Paris, on 2 May 1911.
An edition of the score by the minor Italian composer Giovanni Orefice received several concert performances in Italy and elsewhere before and after the First World War. This edition was the basis of the opera's United States debut, another concert performance at the New York Met in April 1912. The opera was introduced to London, in d'Indy's edition, when it was sung to piano accompaniment at the Institut Français on 8 March 1924. The first British staged performance, with only small cuts, was given by the Oxford University Operatic Society on 7 December 1925, using an edition prepared for the event by Jack Westrup. In the London Saturday Review, music critic Dyneley Hussey called the occasion "one of the most important events of recent years"; the production had "indicated at once Monteverdi's claim to rank among the great geniuses who have written dramatic music". Westrup's edition was revived in London at the Scala Theatre in December 1929, the same year in which the opera received its first US staged performance, at Smith College, Northampton, MA. The three Scala performances resulted in a financial disaster, and the opera was not seen again in Britain for 35 years.
Among a flurry of revivals after 1945 was Paul Hindemith's edition, a full period reconstruction of the work prepared in 1943, which was staged and recorded at the Vienna Festival in 1954. This performance had a great impact on the young Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and was hailed as a masterpiece of scholarship and integrity. The first staged New York performance, by the New York City Opera under Leopold Stokowski on 29 September 1960, saw the American operatic debut of Gérard Souzay, one of several baritones who have sung the role of Orfeo. The theatre was criticised by New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg because, to accommodate a performance of Luigi Dallapiccola's contemporary opera Il prigioniero, about a third of L'Orfeo was cut. Schonberg wrote: "Even the biggest aria in the opera, "Possente spirito", has a good-sized slash in the middle ... [L'Orfeo] is long enough, and important enough, not to mention beautiful enough, to have been the entire evening's opera."
By the latter part of the 20th century the opera was being shown all over the world. In 1965, Sadler's Wells, forerunner of English National Opera (ENO), staged the first of many ENO presentations which would continue into the 21st century. Among various celebrations marking the opera's 400th anniversary in 2007 were a semi-staged performance at the Teatro Bibiena in Mantua, a full-scale production by the English Bach Festival (EBF) at the Whitehall Banqueting House in London on 7 February, and an unconventional production by Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, New York, conducted by Antony Walker and directed by Christopher Alden. On 6 May 2010 the BBC broadcast a performance of the opera from La Scala, Milan. Despite the reluctance of some major opera houses to stage L'Orfeo,[n 6] it is a popular work with the leading Baroque ensembles. During the period 2008–10 the French-based Les Arts Florissants, under its director William Christie, has presented the Monteverdi trilogy of operas (L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse and L'incoronazione di Poppea) in a series of performances at the Teatro Real in Madrid.


A page from the 1609 score of L'Orfeo

L'Orfeo is, in Redlich's analysis, the product of two musical epochs. It combines elements of the traditional madrigal style of the 16th century with those of the emerging Florentine mode, in particular the use of recitative and monodic singing as developed by the Camerata and their successors. In this new style, the text dominates the music; while sinfonias and instrumental ritornelli illustrate the action, the audience's attention is always drawn primarily to the words. The singers are required to do more than produce pleasant vocal sounds; they must represent their characters in depth and convey appropriate emotions.
Monterverdi's recitative style was influenced by Peri's, in Euridice, although in L'Orfeo recitative is less preponderant than was usual in dramatic music at this time. It accounts for less than a quarter of the first act's music, around a third of the second and third acts, and a little under half in the final two acts.
The importance of L'Orfeo is not that it was the first work of its kind, but that it was the first attempt to apply the full resources of the art of music, as then evolved, to the nascent genre of opera. In particular, Monteverdi made daring innovations in the use of polyphony, of which Palestrina had been the principal exponent. In L'Orfeo, Monteverdi extends the rules, beyond the conventions which polyphonic composers, faithful to Palestrina, had previously considered as sacrosanct. Monteverdi was not in the generally understood sense an orchestrator; Ringer finds that it is the element of instrumental improvisation that makes each performance of a Monteverdi opera a "unique experience, and separates his work from the later operatic canon."

The opera begins with a martial-sounding toccata for trumpets which is repeated twice. When played on period wind instruments the sound can be startling to modern audiences; Redlich calls it "shattering". Such flourishes were the standard signal for the commencement of performances at the Mantuan court; the opening chorus of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers, also composed for Gonzaga's court, employs the same fanfare. The toccata acted as a salute to the Duke; according to Donington, if it had not been written, precedent would have required it to be improvised. As the brass sound of the toccata fades, it is replaced by the gentler tone of the strings ritornello which introduces La musica's prologue. The ritornello is repeated in shortened form between each of the prologue's five verses, and in full after the final verse. Its function within the opera as a whole is to represents the "power of music"; as such it is heard at the end of Act 2, and again the beginning of Act 5, one of the earliest examples of an operatic leitmotiv. It is temporally structured as a palindrome and its form of strophic variations allows Monteverdi to carefully shape musical time for expressive and structural purposes in the context of seconda prattica.

After the Prologue, Act 1 follows in the form of a pastoral idyll. Two choruses, one solemn and one jovial are repeated in reverse order around the central love-song "Rosa del ciel" ("Rose of the heavens"), followed by the shepherds' songs of praise. The buoyant mood continues into Act 2, with song and dance music influenced, according to Harnoncourt, by Monteverdi's experience of French music. The sudden entrance of La messaggera with the doleful news of Euridice's death, and the confusion and grief which follow, are musically reflected by harsh dissonances and the juxtaposition of keys. The music remains in this vein until the act ends with La musica's ritornello, a hint that the "power of music" may yet bring about a triumph over death. Monteverdi's instructions as the act concludes are that the violins, the organ and harpsichord become silent and that the music is taken up by the trombones, the cornetts and the regal, as the scene changes to the Underworld.
The centrepiece of Act 3, perhaps of the entire opera, is Orfeo's extended aria "Possente spirto e formidabil nume" ("Mighty spirit and powerful divinity"), by which he attempts to persuade Caronte to allow him to enter Hades. Monteverdi's vocal embellishments and virtuoso accompaniment provide what Carter describes as "one of the most compelling visual and aural representations" in early opera. Instrumental colour is provided by a chitarrone, a pipe-organ, two violins, two cornetts and a double-harp. This array, according to music historian and analyst John Whenham, is intended to suggest that Orfeo is harnessing all the available forces of music to support his plea.[73] In Act 4 the impersonal coldness of the Underworld is broken by the warmth of Proserpina's singing on behalf of Orfeo, a warmth that is retained until the dramatic moment at which Orfeo "looks back". The cold sounds of the sinfonia from the beginning of Act 3 then remind us that the Underworld is, after all, entirely devoid of human feeling.[70] The brief final act, which sees Orfeo's rescue and metamorphosis, is framed by the final appearance of La musica's ritornello and the lively moresca that ends the opera. This dance, says Ringer, recalls the jigs danced at the end of Shakespeare's tragedies, and provides a means of bringing the audience back to their everyday world, "just as the toccata had led them into another realm some two hours before. The toccata and the moresca unite courtly reality with operatic illusion."

Recording history

The first recording of L'Orfeo was issued in 1939, a freely adapted version of Monteverdi's music by Giacomo Benvenuti, given by the orchestra of La Scala Milan conducted by Ferrucio Calusio. In 1949, for the recording of the complete opera by the Berlin Radio Orchestra under Helmut Koch, the new medium of long-playing records (LPs) was used. The advent of LP recordings was, as Harold Schonberg later wrote, an important factor in the postwar revival of interest in Renaissance and Baroque music, and from the mid-1950s recordings of L'Orfeo have been issued on many labels. The 1969 recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Concentus Musicus, using Harnoncourt's edition based on period instruments, was praised for "making Monteverdi's music sound something like the way he imagined". In 1981 Siegfried Heinrich, with the Early Music Studio of the Hesse Chamber Orchestra, recorded a version which re-created the original Striggio libretto ending, adding music from Monteverdi's 1616 ballet Tirsi e Clori for the Bacchante scenes. Among more recent recordings, that of Emmanuelle Haim in 2004 has been praised for its dramatic effect.


After the publication of the L'Orfeo score in 1609, the same publisher (Ricciardo Amadino of Venice) brought it out again in 1615. Facsimiles of these editions were printed in 1927 and 1972 respectively. Since Eitner's first "modern" edition of L'Orfeo in 1884, and d'Indy's performing edition 20 years later—both of which were abridged and adapted versions of the 1609 score—there have been many attempts to edit and present the work, not all of them published. Most of the editions that followed d'Indy up to the time of the Second World War were arrangements, usually heavily truncated, that provided a basis for performances in the modern opera idiom. Many of these were the work of composers, including Carl Orff (1923 and1939) and Ottorino Respighi in 1935. Orff's 1923 score, using a German text, included some period instrumentation, an experiment he abandoned when producing his later version.
In the post-war period, editions have moved increasingly to reflect the performance conventions of Monteverdi's day. This tendency was initiated by two earlier editions, that of Jack Westrup used in the 1925 Oxford performances, and Gian Francesco Malipiero's 1930 complete edition which sticks closely to Monteverdi's 1609 original. After the war, Hindemith's attempted period reconstruction of the work was followed in 1955 by an edition from August Wenzinger that remained in use for many years. The next 30 years saw numerous editions, mostly prepared by scholar-performers rather than by composers, generally aiming towards authenticity if not always the complete re-creation of the original instrumentation. These included versions by Raymond Leppard (1965), Denis Stevens (1967), Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1969), Jane Glover (1975), Roger Norrington (1976) and John Eliot Gardiner. Only the composers Valentino Bucchi (1967), Bruno Maderna (1967) and Luciano Berio (1984) produced editions based on the convention of a large modern orchestra. In the 21st century editions continue to be produced, often for use in conjunction with a particular performance or recording.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Claudio Monteverdi - L'Orfeo
Alessandro Carmignani (tenor), Rosita Frisani (soprano), Carlo Lepore (bass), Marinella Pennicchi (soprano), Giovanni Pentasuglia (tenor), Gastone Sarti (bass), Patrizia Vaccari (soprano)
San Petronio Cappella Musicale Orchestra, Sergio Vartolo
Claudio Monteverdi - L'Orfeo
Act I: Shepherd: In questo lieto e fortunato giorno
Act I: Chorus: Lasciate i monti
Act I: Orpheus: Rosa del ciel
Act I: Chorus: Lasciate i monti
Act I: Shepherd: Ma se il nostro gioir
Act II: Orpheus: Ecco pur ch'a voi
Act II: Shepherd: Mira ch'a se n'alletta
Act II: Orpheus: Vi ricorda, o bosch'ombrosi
Act II: Messenger: Ahi caso acerbo
Act II: Chorus: Ahi caso acerbo
Act II: Sinfonia
Act III: Orpheus: Scorto da te
Act III: Charon: O tu ch'innanzi
Act III: Orpheus: Possente spirto
Act III: Charon: Ben mi lusinga
Act III: Chorus: Nulla impresa per uom
Act IV: Proserpina: Signor, quell'infelice
Act IV: Chorus: Pietade, oggi, e Amore
Act IV: Orpheus: Qual onor di te
Act IV: Eurydice: Ahi, vista troppo dolce
Act IV: E la virtute un raggio
Act V: Orpheus: Questi i campi
Act V: Moresca
Act V: Baccanti
Act V: Sinfonia for Entry of Apollo
Act V: Final Chorus: Vanne Orfeo
Act V: Moresca

The gods Giunione and Giove, who combine
to assure Ulisse of a successful return
Claudio Monteverdi: "Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria"

(The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland)
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (SV 325, The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland) is an opera in a prologue and five acts (later revised to three), set by Claudio Monteverdi to a libretto by Giacomo Badoaro. The opera was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1639–1640 carnival season. The story, taken from the second half of Homer's Odyssey, tells how constancy and virtue are ultimately rewarded, treachery and deception overcome. After his long journey home from the Trojan Wars Ulisse, king of Ithaca, finally returns to his kingdom where he finds that a trio of villainous suitors have seized the realm and are importuning his faithful queen, Penelope. With the assistance of the gods, his son Telemaco and a staunch friend Eumete, Ulisse vanquishes the suitors and recovers his kingdom.
Il ritorno is the first of three full-length works which Monteverdi wrote for the burgeoning Venetian opera industry during the last five years of his life. After its initial successful run in Venice the opera was performed in Bologna before returning to Venice for the 1640–41 season. Thereafter, except for a possible performance at the Imperial court in Vienna late in the 17th century, there were no further revivals until the 20th century. The music became known in modern times through the 19th century discovery of an incomplete manuscript score which differs in many respects from the surviving versions of the libretto. After its publication in 1922 the score's authenticity was widely questioned, and performances of the opera remained rare during the next 30 years. By the 1950s the work was generally accepted as Monteverdi's, and after revivals in Vienna and Glyndebourne in the early 1970s it became increasingly popular. It has since been performed in opera houses all over the world, and has been recorded many times.
Together with Monteverdi's other Venetian stage works, Il ritorno is considered one of the first modern operas. Its music, while showing the influence of earlier works, also demonstrates Monteverdi's development as a composer of opera, through his use of fashionable forms such as arioso, duet and ensemble alongside the older-style recitative. By using a variety of musical styles, Monteverdi is able to express the feelings and emotions of a great range of characters, divine and human, through their music. Il ritorno has been described as an "ugly duckling", but also as the most tender and moving of Monteverdi's surviving operas, and as one which, though it might disappoint initially, will on subsequent hearings reveal a vocal style of extraordinary eloquence.
Historical context

Head of Odysseus (Ulysses),
from a 2nd-century BC sculpture

Monteverdi was an established court composer in the service of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua when he wrote his first operas, L'Orfeo and L'Arianna, in the years 1606–08. After falling out with Vincenzo's successor, Duke Francesco Gonzaga, Monteverdi moved to Venice in 1613 and became director of music at St Mark's Basilica, a position he held for the rest of his life. Alongside his steady output of madrigals and church music, Monteverdi continued to compose works for the stage, though not actual operas. He wrote several ballets and, for the Venice carnival of 1624–25, Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda ("The Battle of Tancred and Clorinda"), a hybrid work with some characteristics of ballet, opera and oratorio.
In 1637 fully-fledged opera came to Venice with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano. Sponsored by the wealthy Tron family, this theatre was the first in the world specifically devoted to opera. The theatre's inaugural performance, on 6 March 1637, was L'Andromeda by Francesco Manelli and Benedetto Ferrari. This work was received with great enthusiasm, as was the same pair's La Maga fulminata the following year. In rapid succession three more opera houses opened in the city, as the ruling families of the Republic sought to express their wealth and status by investing in the new musical fashion. At first, Monteverdi remained aloof from these activities, perhaps on account of his age (he was over 70), or perhaps through the dignity of his office as maestro di capella at St. Mark's. Nevertheless, an unidentified contemporary, commenting on Monteverdi's silence, opined that the maestro might yet produce an opera for Venice: "God willing, one of these nights he too will step onto the stage." This remark proved prescient; Monteverdi's first public contribution to Venetian opera came in the 1639–40 carnival season, a revival of his L'Arianna at the Teatro San Moisè.
L'Arianna was followed in rapid succession by three brand new Monteverdi operas, of which Il ritorno was the first. The second, Le nozze d' Enea in Lavinia ("The Marriage of Aeneas to Lavinia"), was performed during the 1640–41 carnival; Monteverdi's music is lost, but a copy of the libretto, of unknown authorship, survives. The last of the three, written for the 1642–43 carnival, was L'incoronazione di Poppea ("The Coronation of Poppea"), performed shortly before the composer's death in 1643.



18th century edition of Homer's Odyssey,
the source of the libretto for
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria

Giacomo Badoaro (1602–1654) was a prolific poet in the Venetian dialect who was a member of the Accademia degli Incogniti, a group of free-thinking intellectuals interested in promoting musical theatre in Venice—Badoaro himself held a financial interest in the Teatro Novissimo. Il ritorno was his first libretto; he would later, in 1644, write another Ulysses-based libretto for Francesco Sacrati. The text of Il ritorno, originally written in five acts but later reorganised as three, is a more or less faithful adaptation of Homer's Odyssey, Books 13–23, with some characterisations altered or expanded. Badoaro may have been influenced in his treatment of the story by the 1591 play Penelope by Giambattista Della Porta. The libretto was written with the express purpose of tempting Monteverdi to enter the world of Venetian opera, and it evidently captured the elderly composer's imagination. Between them, Badoaro and Monteverdi used a classical story to illustrate the human condition of their own times.
Monteverdi scholar Ellen Rosand lists 12 versions of the published libretto that have been discovered in the years since the first performance. Most of these appear to be 18th century copies, possibly from a single source; some are literary versions, unrelated to any theatrical performances. All but one of the 12 identify Badoaro as the author, while the other gives no name. Only two refer to Monteverdi as the composer, though this is not significant—composers' names were rarely given on printed librettos. The texts are all generally the same in each case, and all differ from the one surviving copy of Monteverdi's musical score, which has three acts instead of five, a different prologue, a different ending, and many scenes and passages either omitted or rearranged. Some of the libretto copies locate the opera's first performance at Teatro San Cassiano, although Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo is now generally accepted as the opening venue.


It is not known when Monteverdi received the libretto from Badoaro, but this was presumably during or before 1639 since the work was being prepared for performance in the 1639–40 carnival. In keeping with the general character of Venetian opera, the work was written for a small band—around five string players and various continuo instruments. This reflected the financial motives of the merchant princes who were sponsoring the opera houses—they demanded commercial as well as artistic success, and wanted to minimise costs. As was common at the time, precise instrumentation is not indicated in the score, which exists in a single handwritten manuscript discovered in the Vienna National Library in the 19th century.
A study of the score reveals many characteristic Monteverdi features, derived from his long experience as a composer for the stage and of other works for the human voice. Rosand believes that rather than casting doubts on Monteverdi's authorship, the significant differences between the score and the libretto might lend support to it, since Monteverdi was well known for his adaptations of the texts presented to him. Ringer reinforces this, writing that "Monteverdi boldly reshaped Badoaro's writing into a coherent and supremely effective foundation for a music drama", adding that Badoaro claimed that he could no longer recognise the work as his own. Contemporaries of the composer and the librettist saw an identification between Ulysses and Monteverdi; both are returning home—"home" in Monteverdi's case being the medium of opera which he had mastered and then left, 30 years earlier.


Before and after the publication of the score in 1922, scholars questioned the work's authenticity, and its attribution to Monteverdi continued to be in some doubt until the 1950s. The Italian musicologist Giacomo Benvenuti maintained, on the basis of a 1942 performance in Milan, that the work was simply not good enough to be by Monteverdi. Apart from the stylistic differences between Il ritorno and Monteverdi's other surviving late opera, L'incoronazione di Poppea, the main issue which raised doubts was the series of discrepancies between the score and the libretto  However, much of the uncertainty concerning the attribution was resolved through the discovery of contemporary documents, all confirming Monteverdi's role as the composer. These documents include: a letter from the unknown librettist of Le nozze d'Enea in Lavinia, which discusses Monteverdi's setting of Il ritorno; Badoaro's preface to the Il ritorno libretto, addressed to the composer, which includes the wording "I can firmly state that my Ulysses is more indebted to you than ever was the real Ulysses to the ever-gracious Minerva"; a 1644 letter from Badoaro to Michelangelo Torcigliani, which contains the words "Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria was embellished with the music of Claudio Monteverdi, a man of great fame and enduring name"; and finally a 1640 booklet Le Glorie della Musica which lists the Badoaro-Monteverdi pairing as the creators of the opera. In the words of conductor and instrumentalist Sergio Vartolo, these findings establish Monteverdi as the principal composer "beyond a shadow of a doubt". Although parts of the music may be by other hands, there is no doubt that the work is substantially Monteverdi's and remains close to his original conception.


The work is written for a large cast—thirty roles including small choruses of heavenly beings, sirens and Phaecians—but these parts can be organised among fourteen singers (three sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, one alto, six tenors and two basses) by appropriate doubling of roles. This approximates to the normal forces employed in Venetian opera. In the score, the role of Eumete changes midway through Act II from tenor to soprano castrato, suggesting that the surviving manuscript may have been created from more than one source. In modern performances the latter part of Eumete's role is usually transposed to a lower range, to accommodate the tenor voice throughout.


The action takes place on and around the island of Ithaca, ten years after the Trojan Wars. English translations used in the synopsis are from Geoffrey Dunn's version, based on Raymond Leppard's 1971 edition, and from Hugh Ward-Perkins's interpretation issued with Sergio Vartolo's 2006 recording for Brilliant Classics. Footnotes indicate the original Italian.


The spirit of human frailty (L'umana fragilatà) is mocked in turn by the gods of Time (Tempo), Fortune (Fortuna) and Love (Amore). Man, they claim, is subject to their whims: "From Time, ever fleeting, from Fortune's caresses, from Love and its arrows...No mercy from me!" They will render man "weak, wretched and bewildered."

Act 1
Stage setting. In the rear centre of the picture, against the background of a stormy sky, is a series of rocks forming the shape of a sailing ship. Left foreground, a sleeping figure is visible on the ground.

Ulisse lies on the shore, as the Faeci ship is turned to stone
by Neptune; an illustration of how this dramatic effect could
be realised in the opera house.

In the palace at Ithaca, Penelope mourns the long absence of Ulysses: "The awaited one does not return, and the years pass by." Her grief is echoed by her nurse, Ericlea. As Penelope leaves, her attendant Melanto enters with Eurimaco, a servant to Penelope's importunate suitors. The two sing passionately of their love for each other ("You are my sweet life"). The scene changes to the Ithacan coast, where the sleeping Ulisse is brought ashore by the Faeci, whose action is in defiance of the wishes of gods Giove and Nettuno. The Faeci are punished by the gods who turn them and their ship to stone. Ulysses awakes, cursing the Faeci for abandoning him: "To your sails, falsest Phaeacians, may Boreas be ever hostile!" From the goddess Minerva, who initially appears disguised as a shepherd boy, Ulisse learns that he is in Ithaca, and is told of "the unchanging constancy of the chaste Penelope", despite the persistence of her evil suitors. Minerva will lead Ulisse back to the throne if he follows her advice; she tells him to disguise himself so that he can penetrate the court secretly. First, Ulisse goes to seek out his loyal servant Eumete, while Minerva departs to search for Telemaco, Ulisse's son who will help his father reclaim the kingdom. Back at the palace, Melanto tries vainly to persuade Penelope to choose one of the suitors: "Why do you disdain the love of living suitors, expecting comfort from the ashes of the dead?" In a wooded grove Eumete, banished from court by the suitors, revels in the pastoral life, despite the mockery of Iro, the suitors' parasitic follower, who sneers: "I live among kings, you here among the herds." After Iro is chased away, Ulisse enters disguised as a beggar, and assures Eumete that his master the king is alive, and will return. Eumete is overjoyed: "My long sorrow will fall, vanquished by you."

Act 2

Minerva and Telemaco return to Ithaca in a chariot. Telemaco is greeted joyfully by Eumete and the disguised Ulisse in the woodland grove: "O great son of Ulysses, you have indeed returned!" After Eumete goes to inform Penelope of Telemaco's arrival a bolt of fire descends on Ulisse, removing his disguise and revealing his true identity to his son. The two celebrate their reunion before Ulisse sends Telemaco to the palace, promising to follow shortly. In the palace, Melanto complains to Eurimaco that Penelope still refuses to choose a suitor: "In short, Eurymachus, the lady has a heart of stone." Soon afterwards Penelope receives the three suitors (Antinoo, Pisandro, Anfinomo), and rejects each in turn despite their efforts to enliven the court with singing and dancing: "Now to enjoyment, to dance and song!" After the suitors' departure Eumete tells Penelope that Telemaco has arrived in Ithaca, but she is doubtful: "Such uncertain things redouble my grief." Eumete's message is overheard by the suitors, who plot to kill Telemaco. However, they are unnerved when a symbolic eagle flies overhead, so they abandon their plan and renew their efforts to capture Penelope's heart, this time with gold. Back in the woodland grove, Minerva tells Ulisse that she has organised a means whereby he will be able to challenge and destroy the suitors. Resuming his beggar's disguise, Ulisse arrives at the palace, where he is challenged to a fight by Iro, ("I will pluck out the hairs of your beard one by one!"), a challenge he accepts and wins. Penelope now states that she will accept the suitor who is able to string Ulisse's bow. All three suitors attempt the task unsuccessfully. The disguised Ulisse then asks to try though renouncing the prize of Penelope's hand, and to everyone's amazement he succeeds. He then angrily denounces the suitors and, summoning the names of the gods, kills all three with the bow: "This is how the bow wounds! To death, to havoc, to ruin!"

Act 3

Deprived of the suitors' patronage, Iro commits suicide after a doleful monologue ("O grief, O torment that saddens the soul!") Melanto, whose lover Eurimacus was killed with the suitors, tries to warn Penelope of the new danger represented by the unidentified slayer, but Penelope is unmoved and continues to mourn for Ulisse. Eumete and Telemaco now inform her that the beggar was Ulisse in disguise, but she refuses to believe them: "Your news is persistent and your comfort hurtful." The scene briefly transfers to the heavens, where Giunone, having been solicited by Minerva, persuades Giove and Nettune that Ulisse should be restored to his throne. Back in the palace the nurse Ericlea has discovered Ulisse's identity by recognising a scar on his back, but does not immediately reveal this information: "Sometimes the best thing is a wise silence." Penelope continues to disbelieve, even when Ulisse appears in his true form and when Ericlea reveals her knowledge of the scar. Finally, after Ulisse describes the pattern of Penelope's private bedlinen, knowledge that only he could possess, she is convinced. Reunited, the pair sing rapturously to celebrate their love: "My sun, long sighed for! My light, renewed!"

Reception and performance history

Early performances

Il ritorno was first staged during the 1639–40 Venice carnival by the theatrical company of Manelli and Ferrari, who had first brought opera to Venice. The date of the Il ritorno première is not recorded. According to Carter the work was performed at least ten times during its first season; it was then taken by Manelli to Bologna, and played at the Teatro Castrovillani before returning to Venice for the 1640–41 carnival season. From markings in the extant score, it is likely that the first Venice performances were in five acts, the three-act form being introduced either in Bologna or in the second Venice season. A theory offered by Italian opera historian Nino Pirrotta that the Bologna performance was the work's première is not supported by subsequent research. The opera's revival in Venice only one season after its première was very unusual, almost unique in the 17th century, and testifies to the opera's popular success—Ringer calls it "one of the most successful operas of the century". Carter offers a reason for its appeal to the public: "The opera has enough sex, gore and elements of the supernatural to satisfy the most jaded Venetian palate."
The venue for Il ritorno's première was at one time thought to be the Teatro Cassiano, but scholarly consensus considers it most likely that both the 1639–40 and 1640–41 performances were at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo. This view is supported by a study of the performance schedules for other Venice operas, and by the knowledge that the Manelli company had severed its connection with the Teatro Cassiano before the 1639–40 season. The Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, owned by the Grimani family, would also be the venue for the premières of Monteverdi's Le nozze d'Enea and Poppea. In terms of its staging Il ritorno is, says Carter, fairly undemanding, requiring three basic sets—a palace, a seascape and a woodland scene—which were more or less standard for early Venetian opera. It did, however, demand some spectacular special effects: the Faeci ship turns to stone, an airborne chariot transports Minerva, a bolt of fire transforms Ulisse.
After the Venice 1640–41 revival there is no record of further performances of Il ritorno in Venice, or elsewhere, before the discovery of the music manuscript in the 19th century. However, the fact that this manuscript was discovered in Vienna suggests that at some time a performance in the city, perhaps before the Imperial court, was staged or at least contemplated. Monteverdi scholar Alan Curtis dates the manuscript's arrival in Vienna to 1675, during the reign of the Emperor Leopold I who was a considerable patron of the arts, and opera in particular.

Modern revivals

The Vienna manuscript score was published by Robert Haas in 1922. Publication was followed by the first modern performance of the opera, in an edition by Vincent d'Indy, in Paris on 16 May 1925. For the next half-century performances remained rare. The BBC introduced the opera to British listeners with a radio broadcast on 16 January 1928, again using the d'Indy edition. The Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola prepared his own edition, which was performed in Florence in 1942, and Ernst Krenek's version was shown in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1959. The first British staging was a performance at St. Pancras Town Hall, London, on 16 March 1965, given with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Frederick Marshall.
The opera entered a wider repertory in the early 1970s, with performances in Vienna (1971) and Glyndebourne (1972). The Vienna performance used a new edition prepared by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whose subsequent partnership with the French opera director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle led to the staging of the opera in many European cities. Ponnelle's 1978 presentation in Edinburgh was later described as "infamous"; at the time, critic Stanley Sadie praised the singers but criticised the production for its "frivolity and indeed coarseness". The 1971 Glyndebourne production, using an edition from Raymond Leppard, was erroneously claimed as the first British staging of the opera, though it was the first by a major British opera company. In January 1974 Il ritorno received its United States première at Washington's Kennedy Center, on the basis of the Harnoncourt edition. More recently the opera has been performed at the New York Lincoln Center by New York City Opera, and at other venues throughout the United States. A 2006 Welsh National Opera production by David Alden, designed by Ian McNeil, featured neon signs, stuffed cats, a Neptune in flippers and a wet suit, Minerva as Amelia Earhart and Jupiter as a small-time hustler,- a conceit defended by the critic Anna Picard - "the gods were always contemporary fantasies, while an abandoned wife and a humbled hero are eternals."
The German composer Hans Werner Henze was responsible for the first two-act version, which was produced in Salzburg on 11 August 1985, with divided critical reaction. Two-act productions have, since then, become increasingly common. A variant from standard theatrical performances was provided by the South African artist and animator William Kentridge, who devised a version of the opera based on the use of puppets and animated film, using around half of the music. This version was shown in Johannesburg in 1998 and subsequently toured the world, appearing at the Lincoln Center in 2004 and at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009.


According to Denis Arnold, although Monteverdi's late operas retain elements of the earlier Renaissance intermezzo and pastoral forms, they may be fairly considered as the first modern operas. In the 1960s, however, music reviewer Richard Johnson found it necessary to warn prospective Il ritorno listeners that if they expected to hear opera akin to Verdi, Puccini or Mozart, they would be disappointed: "You have to submit yourself to a much slower pace, to a much more chaste conception of melody, to a vocal style that is at first or second hearing merely like dry declamation and only on repeated hearings begins to assume an extraordinary eloquence." A few years later, Jeremy Noble in a Gramophone review wrote that Il ritorno was the least known and least performed of Monteverdi's operas, "quite frankly, because its music is not so consistently full of character and imagination as that of Orfeo or Poppea." Arnold himself called the work an "ugly duckling". Later analysts were more positive; to Mark Ringer Il ritorno is "the most tender and moving of Monteverdi's operas", while in Ellen Rosand's view the composer's ability to portray real human beings through music finds its fullest realisation here, and in Poppea a few years later.

The music of Il ritorno shows the unmistakable influence of the composer's earlier works. Penelope's lament, which opens Act I, is reminiscent both of Orfeo's Redentemi il mio ben and the lament from L'Arianna. The martial-sounding music which accompanies references to battles and the killing of the suitors, derives from Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, while for the song episodes in Il ritorno Monteverdi draws in part on the techniques which he developed in his 1632 vocal work Scherzi musicale. In typical Monteverdi fashion the opera's characters are vividly portrayed in their music. Penelope and Ulisse, with what is described by Ringer as "honest musical and verbal declamation", overcome the suitors whose styles are "exaggerated and ornamental". Iro, perhaps "the first great comic character in opera", opens his Act 3 monologue with a wail of distress that stretches across eight bars of music. Penelope begins her lament with a reiteration of E flats that, according to Ringer, "suggest a sense of motionless and emotional stasis" that well represents her condition as the opera begins. At the work's end, her travails over, she unites with Ulisse in a duet of life-affirming confidence which, Ringer suggests, no other composer bar Verdi could have achieved.
Rosand divides the music of Il ritorno into "speech-like" and "musical" utterances. Speech, usually in the form of recitative, delivers information and moves the action forward, while musical utterances, either formal songs or occasional short outbursts, are lyrical passages that enhance an emotional or dramatic situation. This division is, however, less formal than in Monteverdi's earlier L'Orfeo; in Il ritorno information is frequently conveyed through the use of arioso, or even aria at times, increasing both tunefulness and tonal unity. As with Orfeo and Poppea, Monteverdi differentiates musically between humans and gods, with the latter singing music which is usually more profusely melodic—although in Il ritorno, most of the human characters have some opportunity for lyrical expression. According to reviewer Ian Fenlon, "it is Monteverdi's mellifluous and flexible recitative style, capable of easy movement between declamation and arioso, which remains in the memory as the dominant language of the work." Monteverdi's ability to combine fashionable forms such as the chamber duet and ensembles with the older-style recitative from earlier in the century further illustrate the development of the composer's dramatic style. Monteverdi's trademark feature of "stilo concitato" (rapid repetition of notes to suggest dramatic action or excitement) is deployed to good effect in the fight scene between Ulisse and Iro, and in the slaying of the suitors. Arnold draws attention to the great range of characters in the opera—the divine, the noble, the servants, the evil, the foolish, the innocent and the good. For all of these "the music expresses their emotions with astonishing accuracy."


Recording history

The first recording of the opera was issued in 1964 by Vox, a version which incorporated substantial cuts. The first complete recording was that of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus Wien in 1971. Raymond Leppard's 1972 Glyndebourne version was recorded in a concert performance in the Royal Albert Hall; the following year the same Glyndebourne cast was recorded in a full stage performance. Leppard's third Glyndebourne version was issued in 1980, when the orchestration with strings and brass drew critical comment from Denis Arnold in his Gramophone review: "Too much of the music left with a simple basso continuo line in the original has been fully orchestrated with strings and brass, with the result that the expressive movement between recitative, arioso and aria is obscured." Much the same criticism, says Arnold, may be levelled at Harnoncourt's 1971 recording.
Among more recent issues is the praised 1992 René Jacobs performance with Concerto Vocale, "a recording that all serious Monteverdians will wish to return to frequently", according to reviewer Ian Fenlon. Jacobs's version is in the original five-act form, and uses music by Luigi Rossi and Giulio Caccini for some choruses which appear in the libretto but which are missing from Monteverdi's score. More than thirty years after his first issue, Harnoncourt's 2002 version, with Zurich Opera, was recorded live in DVD format. While the quality of the vocal contributions were praised, Harnoncourt's "big-band score" and bold instrumentation were highlighted by Gramophone critic Jonathan Freeman-Attwood as a likely source of future debate.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

El retorno de Ulises a la patria -ópera del año 1643- del cremonés Claudio Monteverdi. Interpretación a cargo de los Ensembles Elyma, Euphonia y el coro Antonio Il Verso, bajo la dirección de Gabriel Garrido. Destacan las voces de la soprano María Cristina Kiehr, de la mezo-soprano Gloria Banditelli, del barítono Furio Zanasi y del tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt.
Monteverdi: "II Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria"
(Glyndebourne, 1973)
Ulisse - Benjamin Luxon
Penelope - Janet Baker
Minerva - Anne Howells
Nettuno - Robert Lloyd
Giove - Brian Burrows
Ericlea - Virginia Popova
Telemaco - Ian Caley
L'humana fragilta - Annabel Hunt

Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Raymond Leppard, conductor

Peter Hall, stage director
John Bury, stage designer
Robert Bryan and Hedley Versey, lighting designers

Claudio Monteverdi. Si dolce é l' tormento
Montserrat Figueras, soprano.
Rolf Lislevand, tiorba
Zefiro torna (Monteverdi) - Rial & Jaroussky
"Zefiro torna"
Nuria Rial (soprano)
Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor)
L'Arpeggiata (direction: Christina Pluhar)
Monteverdi: Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti - Fouchécourt, Padmore
Monteverdi - Beatus Vir
The Taverner Choir and Consort (on Period-Instruments)
Andrew Parrott
Monteverdi: Sí dolce è'l tormento, Thomas Cooley, tenor
Claudio Monteverdi's beautiful "Aria Amorosa" is set in the musical form of a ritornello. Featuring Thomas Cooley, tenor; Elisabeth Reed, cello; David Tayler, theorbo. Video from the San Francisco Early Music Ensemble Voices of Music "Zefiro Torna" concert, September 2009. Voices of Music performs in and records our concerts in St. Mark's Lutheran, SF.
Monteverdi - Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
Testo: Konstantinos Paliatsaras tenor. Clorinda : Guillemette Laurens mezzo-soprano. Tancredi:Konstantinos Paliatsaras tenor. Capriccio Stravagante - Skip Sempe. Recorded in USA (live performance)MCMXCVI New York.
Monteverdi - ''Quel sguardo sdegnosetto'' SV247 by Maria Cristina Kiehr
Maria Cristina Kiehr, Soprano
Jean-Marc Aymes, Harpsichord
Mara Galassi, Harp
Laura Monica Pustilnik, Guitar
Gaetano Nasillo, Cello
Claudio Monteverdi - Zefiro torna e'l bel tempo rimena (Alessandrini)
Concerto Italiano

Cristina Miatello, Soprano
Bianca Simone, Mezzo-soprano
Claudio Cavina, Controtenore
Giuseppe Maletto, Tenore
Daniele Carnovich, Basso
Andrea Damiani, Liuto
Mara Galassi, Arpa
Rinaldo Alessandrini, Direttore

"Venite, venite" - "Emma Kirkby & Evelyn Tubb" - Monteverdi
Emma Kirkby - Soprano
Evelyn Tubb - Soprano
Monteverdi - Parlo Miser O Taccio
Soprani: Cettina Cadelo & Cristina Miatello
Basso: Giovanni Faverio
Organo: Roberto Gini
Monteverdi - Beatus Vir (Selva Morale e Spirituale)
New Trinity Baroque performs one of Monteverdi's most beautiful compositions - "Beatus Vir" for 6 voices, 2 violins and continuo, from his collection "Selva Morale e Spirituale" (1641). Directed from the chamber organ by Predrag Gosta.
Monteverdi - Un concert spirituel - Concerto Vocale - Jacobs, Christie, Nelson...
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643) - Un concert spirituel : motets à 1, 2 et 3 voix, par le Concerto Vocale constitué de Judith Nelson et Birgit Grenat, sopranos, René Jacobs, haute-contre, Mihoko Kimura et Kee Junghänel, violons, William Christie, Orgue et clavecin, Konrad Junghänel, théorbe, Jaap ter Linden, violoncelle.

Enregistré en 1980

Claudio Monteverdi Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 , John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi: Lamento d'Arianna
Veronique Gens is amazing! Lamento Di Arianna by Monteverdi
Veronique Gens(soprano)
Claudio Monteverdi
Lamento di Arianna
Emmanuelle Haim (conductor)
Le Concert d'Astree (L'Arianna-1608)
Lasciatemi morire!
E chi volete voi che mi conforte
in così dura sorte,
in così gran martire?
Lasciatemi morire!

O Teseo, o Teseo mio,
sì che mio ti vo dir,
chè mio pur sei,
benché tinvoli, ahi crudo!
a gli occhi miei.

Volgiti, Teseo mio,
volgiti, Teseo, o Dio!
Volgiti indietro a rimirar colei
che lasciato ha per te
la patria e il regno,
en queste arene ancora,
cibo di fere dispietate e crude,
lascierà lossa ignude.

O Teseo, o Teseo mio,
se tu sapessi, o Dio!
Se tu sapessi, ohimè!, come saffanna
la povera Arianna,
forsi forsi pentito
rivolgeresti ancor la prora al lito.
Ma, con laure serene
tu te ne vai felice,
et io qui piango.
A te prepara Atene
liete pompe superbe,
et io rimango
cibo di fere in solitarie arene.
Te luno e laltro tuo vecchio parente
stringeran lieti,
et io più non vedrovi,
o madre, o padre mio!

Dove, dove è la fede,
che tanto mi giuravi?
Così ne lalta sede
tu mi ripon de gli avi?
Son queste le corone
onde madorni il crine?
Questi gli scettri sono,
queste le gemme e glori?
Lasciarmi in abbondono
a fera che mi strazi e mi divori?
Ah Teseo, a Teseo mio,
lascierai tu morire,
in van piangendo,
in van gridando aita,
la misera Arianna
che a te fidossi e ti diè gloria e vita?

Ahi, che non pur risponde!
Ahi, che più daspe è sordo amiei lamenti!
O nembi, o turbi, o venti,
sommergetelo voi dentra quellonde!
Correte, orche e balene,
e delle membra immonde
empiete le voragini profonde!

Che parlo, ahi! Che vaneggio?
Misera, ohimè! Che chieggio?
O Teseo, o Teseo mio,
non son, non son quellio,
non son quellio che i feri detti sciolse:
Parlò laffanno mio, parlò il dolore;
Parlò la lingua sì, ma non già l core.

Let me die,
and who do you think can comfort me
in such harsh fate,
in such great suffering?
Let me die.

Oh Theseus, my Theseus
I still want to call you mine,
cruel one, even though
you flee from my eyes.

Turn back, my Theseus,
turn back Theseus, oh God!
Turn back to gaze on her
who abandoned
her country and kingdom just for you,
and who will leave her bare bones
on these sands as food for fierce and merciless animals.

Oh, Theseus,
if you only knew, oh god!
Alas, if you only knew the terrible fear
poor Ariadne is suffering,
perhaps you would relent
and point your prow back to the shore.
But, you leave with joy
on gentle breezes,
while I lament here.
Athens is preparing
joyful proud ceremonies for you,
and I remain
food for beasts on these lonely sands.
You will joyfully embrace
Your happy aged parents
but, oh mother, oh father,
I will never see you again.

Where is the faithfulness
that you swore to me so much?
Is this how you set me on the high throne
of your ancestors?
Are these the crowns
with which you adorn my locks?
Are these the sceptres,
the jewels and the gold:
to leave me, abandonned
for the wild beast to tear and devour?
Ah, my Theseus,
will you leave to die,
weeping and calling in vain for help,
wretched Ariadne,
who trusted you and
gave you glory and saved your very life?

Alas, he doesn't even answer!
Alas, he is deafer than a snake to my cries!
Oh clouds, storms, winds!
bury him beneath those waves!
Hurry, you whales and sea monsters,
and fill your deep whirlpools
with his filthy limbs!

But What am I saying? Why do I rage so?
Alas, wretch that I am, what am I asking for?
Oh, my Theseus,
it is not I, no, I am not the one
who uttered those terrible words;
It was my beathless fear and pain that spoke;
my tongue may have spoken, but not my heart.

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