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Operatic Art

In Music For Pleasure on November 8, 2010 at 7:47 pm
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), composer - (Im...

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L’Orfeo (SV 318), sometimes called L’Orfeo, favola in musica, is an 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 40 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.

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.[1] Through ability and hard work Monteverdi rose to become Gonzaga’s maestro della musica in 1601.[2][3]

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.[2] Led by Jacopo Corsi, these successors to the renowned Camerata[n 1] 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.[5][6]

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 to 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.[7] 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.[6] 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.

 

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Vide Cor Meum is a song composed by Patrick Cassidy based on Dante’s “La Vita Nuova“, specifically on the sonnet “A ciascun’alma presa”, in chapter 3 of the Vita Nuova. The song was produced by Patrick Cassidy and Hans Zimmer and was performed by Libera / Lyndhurst Orchestrathe, conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Singers are Danielle de Niese and Bruno Lazzaretti, who play Beatrice and Dante, respectively.

The song first appeared in the movie Hannibal, while Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Inspector Pazzi see an outdoor opera in Florence, and was specially composed for the movie. This aria was chosen to be performed at the Oscars in 2002 during the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to producer Dino De Laurentiis and at the 53rd Annual Emmy awards.

It was used later in Ridley Scott‘s Kingdom of Heaven, during King Baldwin IV‘s funeral.

 

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