Just a few years after opera as a genre had originated in Italy, a substantial contribution to the emergent genre appeared on a stage this side of the Alps with a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo at the prince-archbishop’s residence in Salzburg on 10 February 1614. Composed in 1607 for the carnival at the ducal court of Mantua, Monteverdi’s work, which is based on the ancient Orpheus myth, marks the actual ‘big bang’ of operatic history.
In Monteverdi’s opera, Orfeo also succeeds in bringing his wife back from the underworld by means of an artful lament; however, he loses her forever when he turns round to look at her, and is left behind alone and distraught. Monteverdi elaborated his composition in an entirely novel way, characterizing protagonists and the action with particular motifs or the timbres of the different instruments. Thus Orfeo’s singing is accompanied by the sound of the harp, and the music of the dancing shepherds brightened with flutes and fiddles, while a chorus of trombones adumbrates the sombre atmosphere of the underworld.
One of the oldest puppeteer groups, the ensemble Carlo Colla & Figli from Milan recounts Monteverdi’s favola in musica with its marionettes, which are surrounded by an antique carousel of painted canvases and voiced by the singers.