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.