This is a picture of a 17th-century stage setting of the underworld as interpreted
and improved by the artist (Francesco Guitti). It is not from Monteverdi's Orfeo, but may
give some idea of what a stage was meant to look like. The
chariot of Proserpina is in the foreground (not relevant to
our piece); but in the background is the opening of a cave
with flames: the mouth of the Underworld. A construction like
this may have featured in the Orfeo set for acts 3 and 4,
where Pluto and Proserpina (and later Euridice) could appear
after Orfeo crosses the river Styx and approaches Pluto's
realm. Clouds, rocks, etc. at the sides suggest a series
of parallel painted panels on each side, creating a perspective
This is the title-page of the printed score of Orfeo; another
copy is in your sourcebook. Below Monteverdi's name, the text reads "Performed at Mantua in the
year 1607, and newly published." The score is dedicated
to "The Most Serene Lord Don Francesco Gonzaga, Prince
of Mantua and of Monferato, etc." (Monteverdi's dedicatory
letter to Francesco is translated in your sourcebook.) Francesco
Gonzaga was quite involved in organizing the first performance (see his letters in your sourcebook). This score was not printed
until 1609, and not in Mantua, but in Venice. This may suggest
that it was printed at Monteverdi's expense, to show off his
This is a map of the city of Mantua ("Mantova"
in Italian) made in 1575 -- that is, 32 years before the performance
of Orfeo. The Alps are in the background to the north, and
the flat plain of the Po valley stretches down to Mantua.
The river Mincio has been dammed to make three lakes, which
surround Mantua like a moat. The complex of the Ducal Palace
stands between the two bridges.
This is the ground plan of a theatre arranged for the Accademia
degli Intrepidi in Ferrara in 1605. We don't know the exact details of the theatre used for Orfeo, but this one may give us an idea.
It, too, was made for a learned academy at a princely court;
they wanted to do plays in imitation of the Mantuans! There
is a deep perspective stage (note the narrowing grid-lines),
a semicircular auditorium with an open space in the middle,
and two boxes for instrumentalists at the side of the stage.
The Orfeo theatre was probably not as elaborate, largely because it was temporary;
there was probably a curtain at the back, some or all of the instrumentalists were probably in the middle as in
a modern theatre, and the elaborate semicircle of seats might
have been too much to build for a temporary arrangement.
This is a reconstruction of the room in the "camere
lunghe" of the Ducal palace where Orfeo was performed,
as seen in a scale model by P. Guillou at the Musee
de la Musique, Paris. The original room is whitewashed and occupied
by offices today. It measures about 28 feet wide by 39 feet long;
windows had been curtained to allow the theatrical lighting
with candles and reflectors that provided the atmosphere of
Orfeo. The decoration is reconstructed from information about
the style of the period. The room's size probably meant that there was not room for everybody
to sit during the performance.