I’m revisiting my opera history knowledge, and I’m stuck on the earliest operas. I’m stuck because they’re just so cool.
Have a listen to this excerpt from Stefano Landi‘s La morte d’Orfeo (1619):
What you first hear is an introduction by the Euretti (3 breezes) and then a chat between Aurora, the Euretti, and Hebrus which is in the monodic style of the time. It gets really interesting when the three Euretti have their trio “Mentre cantiam” (5:59 in the video). This begins a scene-complex finale that ends the first act.
These three join together in a madrigal-like trio complete with coloratura and tremolo word painting on the word “gorgheggiate” (warbling). This effect and the way it builds is brilliant. Then each of the breezes have a brief solo before returning to the trio music with new lyrics (except for the “warbling” part, which is the same).
Then a chorus of shepherds enter who sings an imitative section that reminds me more of a dance-infused Gabrieli polychoral motet- complete with brass and layered suspensions – than Monteverdian homophony. There’s a bass duet (12:59) that divides this section into two parts, and the second part (14:20) is one big buildup – though there is one peaceful respite (15:37) – to the end. Powerful stuff.
What does all this have to do with the plot? Nothing. These were the heady early days of opera when it was still a court entertainment amidst all the other entertainment, and composers took divergent views on what the form was once the idealism of the Florentine camerata wore off.
But it’s very creative and a lot of fun.
This is sweet! The stuff from this era can be all-consuming… and who doesn’t love the “screw the plot, let’s do something with serious musical value” sentiment!
Ian Sidden says
Totally! I’m regularly amazed at what was happening with vocal music at the turn of the 17th century.
Glen Heinsohn says
Thanks I saw the opera at the Chelsea movie house-My wife has been flooding me with as much opera and as varied as she can. I like thousands others fell for opera after hearing Luciano sing Nessum Dorma-My first live opera at the Met was LaBoheme three years ago-MiMi’s song had already become a favorite of mine. My favorite thus far has Been Hoffmans tales by offenbach-so varied and the barcarolle and trio song with mom, daughter and the cruel doctor is to die for.
Anyway, we saw this and a women played a lead role of a man-she was excellent!