Favola in musica in five acts (1607)

Music by

Claudio Monteverdi

Text by

Alessandro Striggio d. J.

Claudio Monteverdi’s »Orfeo« is considered to be the first opera and a masterpiece of European musical history. Certainly, this setting to music of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is the earliest surviving »Favola in musica«, which at its première in 1607 apprehended for the first time instrumental music, song, dance and theatre as a unit.

For Sasha Waltz, »Orfeo« brings together different strands from previous creations, and connects soloists from her arrangements of contemporary pieces with actors from the world of ancient music. Her version of Henry Purcell’s baroque opera »Dido & Aeneas« signaled the start of a new chapter in her artistic work. She enhanced the media of musical theatre through the theatricality of dance and created a new genre for the opera, a fusion of dance, song and music: the choreographic opera. This new genre continued its development as Sasha Waltz worked on the compositions »Medea« (Dusapin, 2007), »Roméo & Juliette« (Berlioz, 2007), »Passion« (Dusapin, 2010) and »Matsukaze« (Hosokawa, 2011).




Music descends from Parnassus and tells of Orpheus, who tamed wild animals and overcame the Underworld.

Shepherds and nymphs invoke Hymen, the God of Marriage, and rejoice with Orpheus about the day when Euridice returned his love. Orpheus sings them a song in which he eulogises the Sun God Apollo and his love for Euridice. The chorus of the nymphs and shepherds closes the act, saying that no one should despair, as darkness, pain and cold are always followed by better times.

Whilst Euridice picks flowers, Orpheus remembers the old love song when he was not yet sure of Euridice, and celebrates his good fortune with the shepherds. Then a messenger enters, lamenting that Euridice has been bitten by a snake and died. The shepherds join in the lamentation and Orpheus adjures the sun and life, resolving to bring Euridice back from the realm of shades.

Hope accompanies Orpheus to the entrance of the Underworld. From there on, he has to go on without her since the edict written above the entrance gate says “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”.
Caronte the ferryman refuses to carry Orpheus over, whereupon Orpheus strikes up with an imploring lament: “Possente spirto e formidabil nume”. Caronte admits that Orpheus’ song moves him, but mercy is not his business. He then falls asleep and Orpheus himself crosses with Caronte’s boat. The chorus of spirits praises the ability of people to subdue nature.

Orpheus’ song has moved Proserpina, the wife of Pluto, the ruler of the Underworld. She talks her husband into giving Euridice back to Orpheus out of sympathy. Pluto agrees on condition that before leaving the Underworld he may not turn round to her. Orpheus is sceptical whether she is really following him. Startled by an unexpected noise, he turns around to Euridice and loses her for ever.

Echo accompanies Orpheus in his lament about Euridice. Angered at his fate, he abjures all other women.
Then Apollo, his father, floats down from a cloud and takes him up into the heavens: there he will find the features of his beloved in the stars. Orpheus laments no more but declares himself ready to become a worthy son of Apollo.
The opera closes with a boisterous song from the nymphs and shepherds. They praise Orpheus, who has achieved heavenly honour and complete happiness.