Orpheus, the son of the god Apollo and the Muse Calliope, a demigod with the power to play intensely emotive and beautiful music, has been a wide source of inspiration for many composers, librettists and writers through the ages. In this comparison, Orpheus serves as a paradigm in the construction of Opera, specifically from the time of Monteverdi, and how the art form has changed dramatically from then until the time of Glück. Orchestration, musical structure, and evolution of the characteristics of opera will be discussed, while focusing on one prominent piece from each opera that will be directly compared. The argument of the success of each composer with regards to fulfilling their aims in the art form, despite having highly revered and criticized works, will be analyzed through the representation of the recitative “Possente Spirto” from Monteverdi’s Orfeo, and the aria “Che faro senza Eurydice” from Glück’s Orfeo ed Eurydice.
The Atlanta Opera Guide (2009: 12) explains that the myth of Orpheus begins with him marrying his a nymph named lover, Eurydice, and soon after she was killed by a fatal snake bite. Distraught, Orpheus went to the underworld and by singing the saddest songs and playing beautiful music on his lyre, Hades and Persephone, Gods of the underworld, allowed him entry to the underworld to find Euridyce, on the condition that he does not look at her until they have left the underworld. Orpheus glanced at Eurydice, in an attempt to console her, and to make sure Hades was not deceiving him, and she was kept in the Underworld forever. Orpheus begged for a second chance, which was denied him, and in his grief played some of the saddest music. Thracian maidens, who had tried to seduce him and failed, became so disgusted by him that they tried to kill him. Throwing javelins and spears at him, the maidens couldn’t help but fall to the ground as he played his lyre. They then screamed, drowning out the sound of Orpheus’ instrument, and attacked him brutally, his head eventually being found by nymphs in the river Hebrus. His lyre was carried to heaven to become a constellation, and his body was buried at Libethra. This myth has been edited and changed by the librettists and composers of the operas, to suit their aims and goals in each individual production.
The two pieces selected for comparison from each opera, are Monteverdi’s recitative “Possente spirto” from Act III of L’Orfeo, and Glück’s aria “Che faro senza Eurydice” from Act III of Orfeo ed Eurydice. Despite being two very different pieces that do not originate from a same similar plot, each of the mentioned display the main characteristics that embody each respective opera, regarding their individual orchestration, musical concepts, and emotive qualities. Their respective differences point out the immense progression of opera since its origins towards its reform.
Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, produced in 1607, can be regarded uniquely separate from the later opera canon, as the opera...