Most recent performance
There are currently no scheduled performances of Orfeo. It was last on stage 13–24 January 2015 as part of the Autumn 2014/15 season.
On her wedding day Euridice is bitten by a snake and dies. Her husband, the great musician Orfeo, pursues her spirit down into the underworld.
Orfeo's exquisite music enchants Proserpina, the Queen of Hades, who pleads with her consort Pluto for clemency. Pluto allows Orfeo to lead Euridice into the land of the living, provided he doesn’t look back at his wife. Orfeo cannot resist, and loses her.
The history of great opera begins with the premiere of Claudio Monteverdi's Orfeo on 24 February 1607 in the ducal palace in Mantua. It was Monteverdi's first opera, produced as courtly entertainment for the carnival season. For this 'favola in musica' (story in music) he incorporated existing musical forms, such as madrigals and the newly developed recitative (singing with speech-like rhythms and minimal accompaniment). But the result was revolutionary, possessing a powerful emotional truth that had never been seen before in musical dramas. Orfeo is rightly acclaimed as the first operatic work of art.
A new collaboration between the Roundhouse and The Royal Opera, Orfeo follows on from L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, in spring 2014. Former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Michael Boyd directs in his operatic debut, with a production that features post-graduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and participants of East London Dance.
News and features
15 September 2015
Why does he look back? The Royal Opera’s five Orpheus works this year each give very different answers.
9 March 2015
Nominees include Jonas Kaufmann, Christopher Wheeldon, and The Royal Opera's offsite programme in collaboration with Shakespeare's Globe and the Roundhouse.
3 March 2015
Another chance to hear The Royal Opera and Roundhouse’s acclaimed production of the first great opera.
17 January 2015
Royal Opera/Roundhouse production of Monteverdi’s baroque opera marks a first for both companies.
15 January 2015
How The Royal Opera and the Roundhouse are engaging with the next generation of artists through Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the first great opera.
14 January 2015
What did you think of Michael Boyd's Royal Opera/Roundhouse production of the first great opera?
L'Orfeo (SV 318), sometimes called La favola d'Orfeo, is a late Renaissance/early Baroque favola in musica, or opera, by Claudio Monteverdi, with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio. It is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, and tells the story of his descent to Hades and his fruitless attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to the living world. It was written in 1607 for a court performance during the annual Carnival at Mantua. While the honour of the first ever opera goes to Jacopo Peri's Dafne, and the earliest surviving opera is Euridice (also by Peri), L'Orfeo has the honour of being the earliest surviving opera that is still regularly performed today. During the early 17th century, the traditional intermedio—a musical sequence between the acts of a straight play—was evolving into the form of a complete musical drama or "opera". Monteverdi's L'Orfeo moved this process out of its experimental era and provided the first fully developed example of the new genre. After its initial performance the work was staged again in Mantua, and possibly in other Italian centres in the next few years. Its score was published by Monteverdi in 1609 and again in 1615. After the composer's death in 1643 the opera went unperformed for many years, and was largely forgotten until a revival of interest in the late 19th century led to a spate of modern editions and performances. At first these tended to be unstaged versions within institutes and music societies, but following the first modern dramatised performance in Paris, in 1911, the work began to be seen increasingly often in theatres. After the Second World War most new editions sought authenticity through the use of period instruments. Many recordings were issued, and the opera was increasingly staged in opera houses. In 2007 the quatercentenary of the premiere was celebrated by performances throughout the world. In his published score Monteverdi lists around 41 instruments to be deployed, with distinct groups of instruments used to depict particular scenes and characters. Thus strings, harpsichords and recorders represent the pastoral fields of Thrace with their nymphs and shepherds, while heavy brass illustrates the underworld and its denizens. Composed at the point of transition from the Renaissance era to the Baroque, L'Orfeo employs all the resources then known within the art of music, with particularly daring use of polyphony. The work is not orchestrated as such; in the Renaissance tradition instrumentalists followed the composer's general instructions but were given considerable freedom to improvise. This separates Monteverdi's work from the later opera canon, and makes each performance of L'Orfeo a uniquely individual occasion.