Music by Claudio Monteverdi
Libretto by Alessandro Striggio after Ovid
First performed: 1607
The allegorical figure of Music announces the drama to follow: it is the story of Orpheus, who conquered the Underworld with his playing and singing.
The fields of Thrace It is the wedding day of Orfeo and Eurydice, and everyone is celebrating. Orfeo is invited to sing of his love and he responds by addressing first the sun (Apollo, his father) and then Eurydice. Eurydice pledges her love in return, before an offering is made to the gods in thanks for the couple’s happiness.
The fields of Thrace Together with his friends, Orfeo celebrates the pleasures of the day and his home-land, Arcadia. But his joy is shattered: a messenger brings news that Eurydice is dead. She was gathering flowers with her companions when a poisonous snake bit her. She died with Orfeo’s name on her lips. While the wedding guests react to the news with shock and lamenting, Orfeo rouses himself and resolves to descend to the Underworld and bring Eurydice back.
The Underworld Led by Hope, Orfeo has reached the gates of the Underworld, but Hope can accompany him no further. Orfeo is confronted by Charon, the boatman who ferries the souls of the dead across the river to the Underworld. Charon blocks the way: no one living may enter Pluto’s domain. Orfeo responds by using the power of his music to persuade Charon to row him across; but the ferryman remains obdurate. However, Orfeo’s music succeeds in lulling Charon to sleep, and Orfeo seizes the opportunity to steal Charon’s boat and cross into the Underworld.
Proserpina has been deeply moved by Orfeo’s singing, and urges her consort, Pluto, to release Eurydice. Pluto yields to her entreaties and agrees to free Eurydice on one condition: during their return to the world of the living, Orfeo must not turn round and look at Eurydice. Orfeo begins his journey to the upper world, but is soon overcome by doubts: how can he be sure Eurydice is following him? Hearing a noise, he can no longer control his anxiety and turns round. He sees Eurydice for a brief moment before she dies for a second time and returns to the Underworld. He makes an attempt to follow her but an invisible power drags him towards the daylight. He has lost her for ever.
The fields of Thrace
Orfeo is inconsolable. After praising Eurydice’s beauty, he resolves never to love another woman. Apollo appears and chides him for being a slave to his emotions. He invites his son to join him in the heavens for all eternity, from where he can look upon Eurydice’s semblance in the sun and stars.
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