Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

Abstract Soul
3 min readMar 5, 2021

L’Orfeo was an opera dedicated as a grand gesture of admiration for someone, in this case for Prince Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua, Italy. It was truly intriguing to read the letters Monteverdi would send to this prince. I thought it was crazy how much love and loyalty Monteverdi had for this prince. He wrote him an opera that has an approximate duration of two hours. The admiration he held for this prince was almost in “a god-like“ way. The dedication he wrote on the score was almost that of a love letter. He really gave this work of art great intention and precise thought as one can notice in one of the Documents that may be found in “First Nights” by Thomas Forrest Kelly. A main difference in the way we communicate today versus the way they used to address each other back then is that back then words and letters were so attentive and a very intense “sweet talk” of admiration and great respect. Nowadays, a letter or dedicatory written like that would not be common, at all. A much colder but appreciative and respectful tone would be taken to write a dedicatory.

At some point, when reading those documents I thought that Monteverdi was mainly trying to “kiss up” and the reason he was doing this was because of his interest in his opera being performed and debuted. One can really feel a sort of anxiety and feeling of desperateness coming from the way he wrote one of the letters presented further along in the documents. But in all reality, it was the prince demanding to another noble for Monteverdi’s opera to happen. The prince was someone who genuinely enjoyed music and musical events. I can only imagine what that would be like, to have the ruler of your country share the exact same love and appreciation for your craft.

When listening to the piece I really found the Toccatta to be extremely heroic with it’s prominent and supreme horn fanfares. It really made me think of a scene in which the town is gathered to receive a member of royalty with grand respect. This made so much sense and allowed me to appreciate it more after learning the main reason of why Monteverdi wrote it in the first place. Thinking of the prince, I bet he felt flattered by having a whole two-hour opera written in your honor.

The next part of this piece that was greatly impacting was “Tu Sei Morta”. After reviewing the music, score, and translation of the lyrics, I could immediately notice how dark and sad it turned from that heroic and victorious tone. Without even looking at the translation and catching as many small glimpses of the Italian words in the song, I knew it would have to do with death. The song is very dark, somber and full of agony. After reading the translations, I felt extremely heartbroken. I tried putting myself in the singer’s shoes thinking of my loved one dying and it was incredibly unbearable. At first glance they seemed a bit too dramatic, but after having imagined myself there, made them so much comprehensible. Monteverdi definitely knows how to communicate and drive one’s feelings, a truly impressive power… not only moving tone in music that dramatically and appropriately, but moving people.