picture of C. Monteverdi
lab51 clef icon Claudio Monteverdi
L'Orfeo
(Mantua, February 24, 1607)
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Selected Images

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 effect.

 

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 musical skill.

 

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.