picture of C. Monteverdi
lab51 clef icon Claudio Monteverdi
L'Orfeo
(Mantua, February 24, 1607)
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Synopsis of the Opera

Prologue:
Music appears, as summoned by the audience, extols the charm and power of singing, and commands silence for the fable of Orpheus.

Act I:
In the Fields of Thrace, nymphs and shepherds rejoice in the happiness of Orpheus who has, at long last, won the heart of Euridice. Hymen, god of marriage, is invoked, and various nymphs and shepherds sing songs of delight and dance joyfully as Orpheus and Euridice, too, sing of and celebrate their happy love. The lovers and their attendants depart to offer thanks at the temple.

Act II:
Orpheus returns to join his companions in rejoicing. But their happiness is destroyed when Sylvia arrives to tell them Euridice has been bitten by a serpent and is already dead. Orpheus resolves to go to the Underworld and, by the power of his singing, free Euridice from Pluto's realm or else to remain in Death's kingdom with his beloved. Unhappy, Sylvia departs to mourn alone, and the rest go to lament their loss and pay Euridice their final tribute.

Act III:
Led by the goddess Hope, Orpheus comes to the River Styx, boundary of the dark realm of death. Hope can go no further and leaves him. Orpheus then pleads with Charon, the ferryman, for passage across the river into Hell, but he is refused. By his singing Orpheus seeks to charm Charon into a deep sleep. Orpheus then crosses the river. Infernal spirits sing praises to mortal power and endurance which bring fame and glory.

Act IV:
In the Underworld, Proserpina wins Pluto's conditional consent for Orpheus to bring Euridice back to life, but on one condition: Orpheus must not look back to see if she is following. As they ascend, Orpheus, fearing some deceit, looks back only to see Euridice drawn back to Hell as he is forced into the now hateful daylight. Infernal spirits deplore unruly passions and praise steadfast virtue.

Act V: Returned to the Fields of Thrace, Orpheus laments his lost Euridice and is consoled by Echo. Apollo, god of music, appears and invites Orpheus to ascend to Heaven. The nymphs and shepherds praise Orpheus and there is a final dance.