The Composer

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1649)

Monteverdi was a composer of both secular and sacred music. Also a string player, choirmaster, and priest. His career was based primarily in Venice, where he served as maestro di capella of San Marco. He is the earliest composer of opera whose operas are regularly performed and the first true genius of the opera, belonging in the pantheon of the great opera composers: Mozart, Rossini, Wagner, Verdi, etc. He was likely a child prodigy along the lines of Mozart. His first volume of compositions was published when he was just 15 years old. Most of his compositions, including many stage works, are lost. Major surviving compositions include L’Orfeo, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, L’Incoronazione di Poppea; Madrigal Books 1-9; Vespro Della Beata Vergine; Selva morale e spirituale. He bridges the gap between Renaissance to the Baroque. He enjoyed much fame during his lifetime. His letters indicate a man who is very modern in his thinking, quick-witted, and peppery

The Opera

Composed in 1607

The power of music, love and loss, fleeting nature of happiness, love stronger than death, joy, and woe interwoven.

The Story:
The happiness of Orpheus is shattered on his wedding day when his bride Euridice dies from a venomous snake bite. Armed with only his lyre and beautiful voice, Orpheus descends to the Underworld to free Euridice from death’s realm.

Having been charmed by the beauty of his singing, Pluto, the god of the underworld, consents for Orpheus to return to earth with Euridice on the condition that he 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.

Devastated, Orpheus again laments his lost Euridice. Apollo, the god of music, appears and invites Orpheus to ascend to Heaven where he will eventually be reunited with her spirit. The nymphs and shepherds sing the praise of Orpheus.

From stage director Chas Rader-Shieber:

“At the heart of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo are the building blocks of Opera itself; the spectacle of heightened human emotion, the thrilling integration of the arts, and ultimately, the awesome power of music itself.”

“Monteverdi has chosen to find the highest highs in order to explore the lowest lows – the joy of the bonds of marriage, and the unfathomable tragedy of the death of youth. He uses every tool in the opera playbook to tell this story, describing the earthly joys of celebration, as well as the otherworldly fantasy of the place beyond our understood reality.”

“And all of his skills are mustered to describe a hero who uses music itself to go further than he thought possible to overcome death itself. Just when poignant human weakness seems to end his quest, the world of the gods contrive to allow him greater victory than he could imagine in an apotheosis that is at once magnificent and intimate.”

“All of this is wrapped up in an opera that has charm, magic, perfect lightness, profound weight, and moments of stunning beauty that can make the heart ache. It would be difficult to imagine a better opera with which to open a new company than L’Orfeo; the first great opera, a tribute to the glory of the human voice, and a celebration of the precious nature of a life well lived.”

The Music

  • Music of great beauty often with the simplest of means.
  • Sublime. Spiritual. Pure storytelling with music and text.
  • Emotional very direct and effective.
  • Great sense of musical atmosphere which varies significantly depending on the dramatic tone of each scene – always truthful to the drama.
  • Particularly beautiful music for the chorus – ranging from truly joyful to heart wrenchingly sad.

The Production

A contemporary outdoor wedding party in an elegant garden, which transforms creatively into various other settings.

From the director, Chas Rader-Shieber:

“We’ve chosen the excitement and celebration of a wedding day, to heighten the emotions of everyone involved in the story. Champagne, joyous toasts, and lots of cake, with only dreams of a long life together for Orpheus and Euridice.”

“Now imagine the saddest event happening on what is supposed to be the happiest day of one’s life. It’s into this juxtaposition that we send our hero to the underworld to rescue his new bride from death itself. It’s a fantasy world that looks strangely familiar and yet foreboding at the same time. They say that when you love someone, you seem to see them everywhere you go.”

“In this “actor-operated” production, all the scenic elements of the storytelling are manipulated by the cast, to move from place to place. They reinvent themselves as well, becoming each creature that Orpheus meets along his journey; friends, enemies, and even gods!”

“Ultimately, we embrace the chamber-opera nature of this intimate story, and we hope that in this poignant contemporary look at these iconic characters, the audience might perhaps find themselves onstage as well!”

The Creative Process

Stay tuned here as we post commentary, design materials, video clips, and interviews about the process of creating a new opera production – from the very first design meeting through opening night.

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