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L'ORFEO Begins Performances at Vienna State Opera This Week

Performances run through 22 October.

L'ORFEO Begins Performances at Vienna State Opera This Week

What makes Claudio Monteverdi's Favola d'Orfeo (Legend of Orpheus), premiered at the northern Italian court in Mantua in 1607, the very first opera? Naturally there were a few forerunners. However, for the first time the music in this work itself not only symbolically takes up the words as an allegory in the prologue but the entire scenic events are musically interwoven congenially.

The Orpheus settings from the ancient and renaissance eras portrayed the mythical singer, who knew how to charm all nature and even softened the underworld, as rather more a virtuoso master of eloquence than an interpreter of music. It was only Monteverdi that by inviting a celebration of the achievements of a new »representative style« (stile rappresentativo) unleashed new musical driving forces. Polyphonic, lively dance-like, or solemnly measured choirs and a richly cast instrumental apparatus frame Monteverdi's tonal depiction of words and affect, that touches us to this day with undiminished freshness and depth of expression.

After jubilant, heavenly wedding preparations are abruptly interrupted by the news of the death of the bride Eurydice, who died from a snakebite, we traverse with the orphaned Orpheus the abysses of mourning and despair, and accompany him on his way into the underworld. After he »has let go of every hope«, he starts a song of mourning that pulls all the heartstrings of internalized pain and highly virtuoso alienation. Paradoxically, this heartfelt centerpiece of the opera leads us however not to power, but to the impotence of the song before our eyes: Charon, the ferryman, remains deaf to this imploring supplication and refuses to cross into the realm of the dead. Only the fact that he falls asleep enables Orpheus to sneak there unheroically. And it's not Orpheus' singing immediately either, but only the intercession of the wife of Pluto, the god of the dead, that convinces him to consent to the return of Eurydice. This may only happen on the condition that causes Orpheus to lose her a second time. The triumph and misery of art have therefore been part of the opera genre ever since the beginning, inscribed as: »Try again. Fail again. Fail better.« (Beckett)

Director Tom Morris invites us all as visitors to a wedding party that he has imagined as the framework for his staging as a contemporary equivalent to the courtly festival.

Performances run through 22 October. Learn more at


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