Got your sitz muscles on and your warm beer and cold pizza ready? Good, because today I have 2 solid hours of Baroque Opera for you.
I told you to expect something completely different.
It tells the story, at great length and repetitively in song and a foreign language that I don’t understand, of Orpheus and Eurydice. Allow me to summarize-
Orpheus was a legendary Bard (who says you don’t learn anything from D&D?) who could literally (and I know the difference between that and figuratively) out sing the Sirens and did so in the service of Jason and his fellow Argonauts.
He married a beautiful woman named Eurydice. Just after their wedding she was accosted by a satyr and rather than submit she ran away and fell into a pit of snakes suffering a fatal bite.
Distraught, Orpheus expressed his grief in songs that made the gods themselves weep and he was allowed to enter Tartarus where his lamentations softend even the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They agreed to release Eurydice on a single condition- that Orpheus not look back until they were both safely out of Tartarus.
Did I not say tragedy? Nothing ever goes well in an Opera. Orpheus misinterprets the agreement and when he reaches the land of the living again with Eurydice a step or two behind (totally sexist) he turns back to see how she is doing. Poof. She is now dead dead, no saving throw.
Like a lot of myths and legends you should take this one with a pillar of salt, but you can see why it’s a particularly attractive one for musicians and it is constantly re-visited in that pre-corporatist intellectual property kind of way.
What’s interesting about L’Orfeo is that it’s one of the earliest examples of the ‘classical’ Operatic format that was enormously popular for over 300 years and could be argued persists even today in what we contemporarily call ‘Musicals’.
Monteverdi was right on the cusp of the transition between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque basso continuo. He was a singer, a gambist (an instrument that hardly exists now except in museums), and, oh yeah, a priest.
Look, I know he had a wife and 3 kids. He didn’t take orders until after she died and back in the day becoming a priest was kind of like retiring on a pension. Give him a break.
In fact he’s rather more famous for his Madrigals which in addition to being eminently singable and pleasant to listen to (much more than Opera to my mind) clearly demonstrate the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque styles.
As Baroque style rose the Madrigal was displaced by the solo Aria and that made me sooo mad.
How mad are you?
I’m sooooooooooooooo mad.
I’m so mad I’m not even going to sing my Aria!
OK, maybe a little.
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