L’Orfeo (1607)

by johnbuck8

Last week I attended the screening of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607) on Tuesday night. It was the first time I really watched an opera intently and this music seemed to strike me in a much different way than the other genres we have encountered so far in class. The first act includes “Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi,” which has an extremely positive sound to it. As we said in class, it seems to be the catchiest music we have heard and its harmonies allow us to sing it back. But, why is there this sudden shift from the music of the Renaissance? It appears to be an extremely large step.

While there seemed to be a more gradual progression from the Gregorian chant at the beginning of the semester to the Renaissance works of Josquin, Palestrina, and Weelkes, L’Orfeo (1607) seems to bring something entirely new. The string instruments and the basso continuo add another dimension. We have mentioned that there is a new focus on the higher tones and the lowest tone in the polyphony of Baroque music and this makes it seem much more secular and expressive. Before, there was much more equality in the different voices and the extravagance of the music did not appear in the same way or to the same extent.

The theater aspect of opera is another interesting development. It is remarkable how L’Orfeo (1607), along with other operas, is still popular today. It also begs a question: how do the performances in the past differ from the shows seen today? Of course there are aspects such as the castrato that are not included, but the themes and messages of the operas are the same. The character of Orpheus is popular in opera and this performance focuses on music’s ability to play a large role in the world. How do other people feel about the transitions between the new styles of music we have been experiencing?