Monteverdi's version of the legend of Orpheus, celebrating the power of music and the triumph of song over death itself, is arguably the first masterpiece of opera, and it dates from 1607. Composed for the court of Mantua, where Monteverdi was ...
employed, it is very different in aesthetic from his two other surviving operas, which he wrote more than thirty years later to entertain the Venetian audiences in the first public opera houses. All three are masterworks, establishing their author as among the greatest opera writers of all time: Orfeo was long considered untranslatable, because the text is so closely tied to the music, and the Venetian librettos owe some of their brilliance to Spanish Golden Age theatre. This opera guide is an opportunity to read all three of Monteverdi's stage works together, in Anne Ridler's graceful translations. Iain Fenlon introduces the most recent research on Monteverdi and opera, and the other articles are devoted to the very different character of each work. Over the course of the last century these scores have been rediscovered and brought to life in many different ways: Jenny Barlow has compiled the views of the composers, musicologists and performers who have contributed to this continuing debate about authenticity and drama.