Credited with composing the first opera in history, Jacopo Peri wrote Dafne in 1598. He modeled it after Greek plays by creating a drama that was sung throughout.
Two years following Dafne, Peri set the drama L’Euridice to music. The plot is based on the mythological tale of Orfeo, who uses the emotion created by music to persuade the creatures of the underworld to let his wife, Euridice, return to life. In his opera, Peri created a new technique now widely known in the opera world as recitative. This musical term refers to a type of singing meant to resemble speech. He also used what is known as arias between the recitative sections during which singers had the opportunity to show off a bit in a solo song.
Peri’s L’Euridice was performed at the wedding celebration of Maria de’Medici to King Henry IV of France. Around the same time, another early-opera composer was emerging on the scene with an opera of the same plot. Though not opera’s originator, Claudio Monteverdi is recognized in high regard by music historians for his accomplishments with his first opera, L’Orfeo (1607). Like Peri, Monteverdi used the same mythological story of Orfeo and Euridice as well as arias and recitative. He expanded the instrumental ensemble and included various duets and dances throughout to better reflect the drama.
Monteverdi does an excellent job in L’Orfeo at conveying the character’s emotions through music. For instance, when Orfeo discovers that his wife has died, the music changes from a major mode to minor and adds an organ to reflect his sad state. Listen to Orfeo’s lament here.
Do you think Monteverdi effectively conveys Orfeo’s emotion following this tragedy?
This month is a significant one for Monteverdi fans – May 9 marks 450 years since his birth!