A big thank you to all who joined us for Monteverdi’s Orfeo to close out the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado’s 2018-19 season. For me it was an incredible thrill to perform this early masterpiece, a culmination of a two-year journey, and the perfect conclusion to a season that called “Music that Moves.” I was in awe of the entire cast, the wonderful early wind specialists, and of course our own BCOC musicians, all led and inspired by guest conductor-lutenist Stephen Stubbs. (To view bios from our principal guest artists, see BCOC’s Guest Artists page).
From our vantage point in 2019, Monteverdi’s Orfeo can be viewed through various lenses. The work is often considered as the first great opera, and has secured a place in both the mainstream opera repertory and the historical performance scene. Monteverdi and the early experimenters in the art form we now call opera were concerned with reviving principles from ancient Greek theatre and music, which makes the resulting works something like “early music times two” for us! “We are evoking a performance of 400 years ago that itself sought to evoke a performance more than a millennium earlier still.” (Tom Kelly)
In its time Orfeo was sometimes called a fable in music (Favola in Musica), which points to Renaissance themes and philosophy that would have been familiar to the work’s first audience in Mantua, 1607. But Orfeo is at its heart a classic, timeless love story, resounding through the centuries to Monteverdi’s astonishing music. It also speaks to the power of music itself. After all, Orpheus himself is the legendary musician who “drew wild beasts to him by his singing.” And Monteverdi significantly begins the entire work (after the signature opening toccata) with an extended monologue delivered by the personification of Music herself, including this verse:
I am Music, who in sweet accents
can calm each troubled heart,
and now with noble anger, now with love,
can kindle the most frigid minds.
In the words of John Eliot Gardner, “the truth is that Monteverdi’s ‘musical fable’ is a brilliant and compelling manifesto for the inalienable power of music – to complement and mesh with good verse, but also to take over the moment when words prove inadequate.”