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Orfeo Monteverdi Analysis Essay

This 1607 masterpiece was the eureka moment in a new genre known today as opera.

Let’s get something straight from the outset: Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 music drama L’Orfeo, favola in musica was not the first opera. It wasn’t even close. Like the story of Orpheus himself, the idea that Monteverdi single-handedly gave birth to the modern music drama is nothing more than myth.

As with most great landmarks in Western music, the rumblings begin long before the main event. For instance, Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental Das Wohltemperierte Klavier from 1722 – a kaleidoscope of prelude and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys – had many precursors and models. A cycle of 24 passamezzo-saltarello pairs by Giacomo Gorzanis from 1567 and Daniel Croner’s little organ pieces in successive keys from 1682 are but two examples. We are also quick to assert that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was the first instance of choral music within a symphonic setting; yet his contemporary Peter Winter beat him to the punch with his Schlacht-Sinfonie, composed a good decade earlier in 1814.  

Like Bach and Beethoven’s respective compositions, what should be attributed to Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo is the distinction of being the first “great” example. In a tiny courtly room in Mantua in 1607, Monteverdi gave the world what can be described as the finest exposition of what we now know as “opera” (a term that was not used until the middle of the 17th century).

Music drama didn’t appear with a bang; rather, it gestated in and around the Italian provinces for most of the 16th century. The popular story that a small number of Florentine humanists consciously crafted the idea of music drama as a reinvention of the Ancient Greek tragedy is misleading. While admiration for antiquity was an ever-present sentiment in Renaissance Italy, the recreation of Greek tragedy was not their sole intent. 

As Monteverdi scholar Joachim Steinheuer explains, the model for the musicians and dramatists of the Italian Renaissance was immersed in an earthly, pastoral context: “Instead of depicting the tragic entanglements of kings and their like, situated in palaces or other appropriately courtly surroundings, early operas are generally set outdoors in country settings and are concerned with the love of gods, semi-gods, shepherds and nymphs. In this respect they belong instead to the contemporary tradition of the pastoral play, a dramatic genre that evolved only in early modern times, even though it referred to the long-standing, but non-dramatic bucolic tradition of Greek and Roman classic authors”. 

It was Angelo Poliziano’s Fabula di Orfeo (1480) that sparked the Italian Renaissance love-affair with Orpheus and pastoral settings. His fabula was a dramatic sketch, comparatively short at 352 lines, performed at courtly feasts and allowed musical interludes and accompaniments. Historians have highlighted how Poliziano encouraged greater involvement from instrumentalists and vocalists – a foreshadowing of the modern music drama a century later.

A steady evolution transpired over the course of the 16th century: from the accompanied fabula came the intermedium – madrigals and solo songs with instrumental accompaniment specifically composed to be performed between acts of more serious dramatic entertainment at princely courts. Again, the use of pastoral setting was strong. Come the 1570s, these Florentine composers (or “intermedi”) had begun to discuss the possibilities of song and text, its subsequent fusion and how best to present it in a longer, coherent form. Referring to themselves as a camerata (club or gathering), they took inspiration from antiquity, believing the Greeks and Romans to have sung most of their drama. Writing many years later, the camerata’s patron, Count of Vernio in Florence, Pietro Bardi, in whose palace the musicians, dramatists and theorists congregated, described the reason for the group’s discussions. “The academy’s principal goal,” he wrote in 1634, “was to improve modern music and lift it somewhat above the miserable condition in which the Goths, chiefly, had plunged it after the loss of ancient music and the other noblest arts and sciences.”

Bardi was under no illusion as to who was the first composer to present music and text in this new configuration: Jacopo Peri. “The first poem that was sung upon the stage,” recalled Bardi, “was La favola di Dafne by Signor Ottavio Rinuccini, set to music by Peri with few notes and short scenes; it was performed in a small room and sung privately, and I was stunned at this marvel.” Music for this work was also provided by Jacopo Corsi. Although the exact date of this performance is unknown, it is likely to have taken place during the Florentine carnival season of 1597-98. Word of this domestic performance spread and Peri was commissioned to write another, L’Euridice; this time for a much grander occasion – Maria de’Medici and Henry IV’s wedding festivities of 1600. Opera – or scena rappresentativa as its early innovators called it – had found an influential audience.

Peri and others “had no lack of imitators in Florence,” wrote Bardi, “the first centre for this sort of music, and in other cities of Italy, especially Rome, who continue to be admired in their scena rappresentativa; among the best of whom it seems appropriate to rank Monteverdi.”

Born in the north Italian town of Cremona in 1567, Claudio Monteverdi’s career as a composer until 1607 consisted largely of writing madrigals at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga in Mantua. As a frustrated court singer and viol player, Monteverdi had gained considerable fame from his various Books of Madrigals, which furthered the development of polyphonic music. Eventually rising to the post of Vincenzo’s maestro della musica (court composer) in 1602, it was only natural, therefore, that Monteverdi should attempt the new form of music drama, bringing it to be at the Mantua Carnival festivities of 1607.

Monteverdi’s choice of subject is hardly surprising. Any quick survey of the first four decades of the 17th century would demonstrate that the early composers felt a strong affinity with Orpheus and his divine musical gifts. Peri’s L’Euridice (1600), Giulio Caccini’s Euridice (1602), Domenico Belli’s Orfeo dolente (1616), Stefano Landi’s La morte d’Orfeo (1619) and Heinrich Schütz’s Orpheus und Euridice (1638) are just a few examples of this early gravitation. For his L’Orfeo,Monteverdi collaborated with Alessandro Striggio Junior, a young lawyer and occasional player of the viol. Striggio provided Monteverdi with a libretto, evidently crafted from his interpretation of the Orpheus story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Virgil’s Georgics.

The premiere of L’Orfeo, favola in musica took place at the ducal palace in Mantua on February 24, 1607. The day before, a Mantuan nobleman wrote to his brother describing the prospect of such a “curious” undertaking: “It should be most unusual, as all the actors are to sing their parts; it is said on all sides that it will be a great success. No doubt I shall be driven to attend out of sheer curiosity, unless I am prevented from getting in by the lack of space.”

Notwithstanding the small room in which it was premiered and the “narrow stage” described by Monteverdi, the music drama was received favourably, enough so that an encore performance was demanded for “all the ladies resident in the city” (suggesting that only men attended the premiere). The cast too, as far as can be gathered, was an all-male affair, with castrati filling the female roles. 

Crown Prince Francesco Gonzanga instructed Striggio to have the libretto printed for the opening performance, “so that everyone in the audience can have a copy to follow while it is sung”. The music, however, was not published until 1609 (and again in 1615), and displays possible re-workings by Monteverdi in that time.

“Those two publications are all that we have from Monteverdi,” laments Paul Dyer, artistic director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, who will be performing a world premiere edition of L’Orfeo in September. “It’s just been released by Barenreiter and was edited by a good friend of mine, the harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini. There has been a lot of intrigue surrounding those two publications since its premiere. What Alessandrini has done is put them together in one fantastic new edition.”

Staging L’Orfeo has been a long time coming for Dyer – an ambition spanning 21 years. It’s also, he believes, a culmination of everything the ABO has ever done. “Others, of course, have done L’Orfeo before, but this is exciting for me because my career has focussed on a very specific period of music.” 

Dyer describes the upcoming production as “lavish”, hoping to couple the old with the new by incorporating modern sounds into the work. “I want to make this opera very current. I want to make it as pure as possible, but tell it in such a way that people don’t just think it’s an old piece of music.”

Dyer’s pleasure in the work as a whole is palpable: “It’s utterly spectacular. It’s a piece of music I’ve always wanted to present in its contemporariness. It’s a classical drama, yes, but Orfeo’s journey to a state of self-loathing – perhaps what we would now term “depression” – is profoundly moving. It’s awesome and scary, thrilling and deeply passionate.”

Part of the uniqueness of the score lies in Monteverdi’s very fragmentary markings and instructions. As was common for that period, Monteverdi encouraged instrumental ornamentation and embellishment, presenting his score as what today might be considered skeletal. This gives every performance of L’Orfeo its own distinct sound and identity.

This is not to say, however, that Monteverdi’s music is simple or incoherent. L’Orfeo’s structure and design point to a composer in complete control of his craft and the musical atmosphere in which it was written. Monteverdi deployed particular instruments for musical characterisation, for example, with muted trumpets and trombones used for the opening ceremonial Toccata, specifically “before the raising of the curtain”. On other occasions, Monteverdi instructed on what should be played rather than how: “performed to the sound of all the instruments”, or “sung to the sound of five violins, three chitarrone, two harpsichords, a double harp, a double-bass viol and a sopranino recorder”, or “to the sound of a regal, a chamber organ, five trombones, two bass viols and a double bass viol”. 

Struggling with these frugal instructions has been a challenge for Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, who is currently working with fellow Australian, Barrie Kosky, on an “adaptation” of Monteverdi’s three great operas – L’Orfeo, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, and L’Incoronazione di Poppea – to be performed as one mammoth 12-hour trilogy at the Berlin Komische Oper. “All you have to work with is the vocal line and the bass. Nothing else! It was very much a discovery for me,” says Kats-Chernin from her live-in quarters inside the Komische Oper. “I was amazed at how Monteverdi could make the music appear so simple on the surface, but then he brings forth the most complex ideas and sounds. The modulations, too, astounded me. The way Monteverdi could surprise his audience by writing either a C Major or F Major chord, and then progress to the most foreign key. I found the freedom that Monteverdi afforded his writing to be amazing. It’s really kept me on my toes!”

Approached by Kosky three years ago, Kats-Chernin has spent the best part of two years completing the music for the trilogy. As much as her and Kosky’s adaptations bring a new flavour to Monteverdi, Kats-Chernin recognises his works’ inimitable beauty. “I think the drama in Monteverdi’s operas is timeless. They deal with a richness of the senses. The stories are poetic and emotional. Monteverdi was a visionary.”

Indeed, more so than any of his contemporaries, Monteverdi brought the various existing musical forms and modes together into a wonderfully innovative coalescence. He underlined his mastery as a madrigalist and polyphonic writer, while effortlessly incorporating the monodic sung style, both in recitative and aria. With L’Orfeo, Monteverdi established himself as the first great dramatist, displaying an intuitive understanding of the relationship between music and text. It’s why Paul Dyer describes performing it as “going back to square one”.

In 1616, Monteverdi criticised a proposed libretto – Le nozze di Tetide – because of its abstract characters, Zephyr and Boreal (west and north winds). Writing to Striggio, he declared, “How should I, dearest friend, imitate the speech of the winds if they do not speak, and how should I stir the emotions with them? Arianna shudders because she is a woman, and Orpheus was stirred because he was a human being and not a wind! Arianna inspired me to a (dramatically justified) lament and Orpheus to a (dramatically justified) entreaty!”

With this, Monteverdi lay forth his genius for understanding humanity and representing it in music – a gift that has defied the centuries.

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s production of L’Orfeo runs from September 12–15 in Brisbane, September 19-26 in Sydney and September 23 in Melbourne.

Firstly, I will describe opera’s Florentine background and its impact on the Venetian scene. Keeping those ideas in mind, the discussion will delve into the socio-cultural environment of Venetian librettists and their conception or approach to the problem of verisimilitude. The last part of this essay will use Monteverdi’s opera, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, to illustrate some of the ideas previously explored.  

Florentine opera like Monteverdi’s Orfeo or Peri’s Eurydice addressed the problem of verisimilitude through different means. As argued by Pirrotta, Florentine as well as Mantuan librettists and composers deliberately chose plots where mythical characters known for their natural abilities to sing were central. Librettists also made extensive use of pastoral settings where singing characters did not seem so unusual to the audience. It is worth noting that those views are not exactly shared by Tomlinson who claims that the audience of early opera did not require justification for music drama. Complaints about sung drama, he says, do not “seem to have emerged much earlier than the 1640’s.” Early operas, Tomlinson adds, were first rooted in the tradition of favolas or fabulas as Poliziano’s Fabula di Orfeo and:

…arose from a Florentine cultural elite captivated by notions of Orphic singing and its effect, an intellectual milieu permeated by Ficinian Neoplatonism that granted music a fundamental role in the structuring of the cosmos and magical powers in man’s interaction with it.

  While the aristocratic audience of Florentine opera might have been prepared to accept musical speech, composers nevertheless addressed the problem of verisimilitude with the invention of recitative. Pirrotta refers to this as recitar cantando (as opposed to cantar recitando that is associated with songs and arias.) Monteverdi, Peri, and Caccini all contributed to the invention of this sung recitation meant to emulate speech. From those days, recitative has remained an important part of opera.

  Mythological and pastoral subjects as well as recitative were initially transposed to the Venetian reality. As Pirrotta explains, the Venetian public was unprepared to hear sung speech as a normal way for humans to express themselves. By the 1650’s however, opera as a genre was firmly established in Venice. Yet, one of opera’s important premises, the verisimilitude or vraisemblance of sung drama, still seemed significant to its creators. As this witness of the past, Francesco Sbarra, writing in 1651, tells us:

I know that the ariette sung by Alexander and Aristotle will be judged contrary to the decorum of such great personages; but I also know that musical recitation is improper altogether, since it does not imitate natural discourse and since it removes the soul from dramatic compositions, which should be nothing but imitations of human actions. Yet this defect is not only tolerated by the current century but received with applause.

  This account tells a good deal about ideological and intellectual questions that the new genre occasioned but also admits that the “suspension of disbelief” required by the audience in the face of musical speech could be taken for granted in Venice at that time.

  Librettists took issues of verisimilitude seriously in the early days of Venetian operas. When was sung drama appropriate? Which characters could legitimately sing in an opera? What kind of poetry lent itself best to sung drama?  Because they were the stars of early Venetian opera, librettists were credited with a work’s failure or success. That put a lot of pressure on this new “profession” where conventions did not yet exist. Librettists operated with the constant paradigm that their work could not stand alone, that the oeuvre was complete only with the addition of music. Hence, they claimed that their poetry, because of the exigencies of music, had to be deprived of some of its elegance and refinement. For those reasons and also issues of verisimilitude mentioned above, early Venetian librettists constantly justified their work. Rosand indicates in her work that these justifications and aesthetic preoccupations were sparked by the librettists’ “discomfort with verisimilitude.”

  These issues are closely linked to the first librettists’ social background and education. Most librettists—almost all of them in fact—were closely associated with the prestigious Accademia degli Incogniti. The Incogniti was composed of well-learned aristocrats who shared interest in antique arts and literature as well as power in the Venetian Republic. The Incogniti promoted ideological and intellectual debates on every subject and had a predilection for questioning received dogmas.  As Rosand puts it in “Opera in 17th Century Venice:

These attitudes—the heavy emphasis on Aristotle, the training in debate, and the appreciation of equivocation promoted by the academy—strongly conditioned the impact of the Incogniti writers on the development of opera. The very ambiguity of sung drama appealed to them. It gave them the opportunity to exercise their forensic skills, as illustrated by the variety of defenses and definitions they erected…in defense of their work.

  While these intellectual debates about the practice of the ancients raged, the Venetian socio-political context forced a new kind of opera to emerge. In Venice, Florentine solutions could only offer a temporary answer to the problem of verisimilitude. As Tim Carter explains, opera was quickly used as a new tool in the political mythology of Venice “emphasizing greatness, magnificence and luxury.” The first Venetian operas, including Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and Incoronazione di Poppea, draw into this potent theme. Historical themes exploiting the mythic origins of Venice through the Troy-Rome-Venice succession (especially what Rosand refers to as the Rome-Venice paragon)were immediately adopted by librettists. Soon after those first years, however, the subject matter of librettos changed their focus from the Republic’s mythic origins to more “realistic” subjects. The shifting focus of librettos’ subject matter illustrates that Venetian writers quickly stopped relying on Florentine and Mantuan conventions to justify sung drama and its verisimilitude to speech. It might also show that the concern for verisimilitude did not last very long. However, as we have seen above, this concern seems to have been a deeply felt one in the 1640’s at the least.

  The emergence of operatic conventions helped in defusing the problem of verisimilitude by allowing the audience to enter this state of mind where temporary “suspension of disbelief” was possible. From the very first year, new creations referred to and borrowed from past ones. The dependence on classical justification slowly began to ease off, the new genre swiftly establishing itself. La finta pazza, a libretto by Giulio Strozzi set to music by Francesco Sacrati, played a major role in the establishment of operatic conventions. Presented in 1641, the opera was a resounding success. As Rosand explains, beyond the vast campaign of publicity or propaganda organized by the Incogniti, the opera had inherent qualities that made it a success.La finta pazza established archetypical scenes—the mad scene, the sleep scene, the comic aria, etc.—that were widely imitated in other productions. Many of those conventions, however, were drawn from the “tradition of spoken theater, from comedy and the pastoral.” The opera, playing with the self-consciousness of being a sung text, exploits those types of scenes to justify singing. As Rosand explains, La finta pazza, constantly plays with aesthetic issues and blurs distinctions between “actors who sing and singers who act, between speech and song.”

  While studying questions of verisimilitude, one can legitimately ask if they were merely intellectual games that did not concern lay people, games played mostly by the aristocrats of the Incogniti. I believe that this unreality of musical speech is inherent to opera as a genre. In my mind, there is something profoundly unnatural, and even at times disturbing, to musical speech. It is an acquired taste, one however, that the Venetian audience seems to have acquired rather quickly. I suspect that as we go to movie theaters nowadays and watch unrealistic dramas, the Venetian audience similarly deluded itself and accepted the vraisemblance of sung drama in order to happily escape reality. Unsurprisingly, the most accessible part of sung drama and also the quintessential representative of song in opera, the aria, imposed itself on the genre through the influence of performers and public demand. The aria, however, was not readily favored as a verisimilar mode of expression. By the 1630’s, while recitative was an accepted convention, songs (arias) were questioned as to their adequacy to represent “characters in highly emotional states.”

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

First presented in 1640, Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria stands exactly at this early point of early Venetian opera development and is a reflection of its time. Monteverdi was of course not new to the genre and he brought the sum of his experience when he returned to it in 1640.Il ritorno combines the wide array of the master’s compositional practices. In addition to musical devices used in Orfeo—dramatic and ornate recitative, canzonettas, strophic variations, etc.—Monteverdi adds to his palette the fruit of his Venetian experimentations. For example, the relatively new concitato style, first developed in the Combatimenti di Tancredi e Clorinda and explored further in the eighth madrigal book, is used in the opera.

  In Il ritorno, as opposed to l’Orfeo, recitative is employed in a more integrated fashion. As Carter explains Il ritorno exemplifies a fluidity between the various compositional styles available to the composer. A fluidity, Carter argues, that illustrates the audience’s acceptance of the “musical conventions of opera.” Tomlinson corroborates Carter’s views adding however that in Monteverdi’s Venetian operas, “realistic acts and situations can be seen to accentuate the unreality of the medium in which they are presented.” (Tomlinson 1995, 10) In other words, librettos with more realistic or human characters, as Ulysses, accentuate the problem of verisimilitude. Song was appropriate only for certain types of character—pastoral characters, and gods—and in specific situations where convention was making it credible: love songs, mad scenes, comical scenes, sleep scenes, overwhelming joy, etc. Outside of a dramatic context allowing his singing, there was no reason for a character like Ulysses, unlike the ‘ divine’ Orfeo, to do so. The same argument applies to the other realistic characters as Penelope, Telemaco, the suitors, etc. Knowing the audience’s growing taste for arias, the challenge that Monteverdi and Badoaro faced was in justifying song for such characters.

  It is therefore unsurprising that Monteverdi and Badoaro make use of conventions profusely. For example, Il ritorno contains a number of scenes where gods sing, a skill granted to them by their very nature. In the first Act, when Minerva tells Ulysses that he has reached Ithaca, she sings in an aria style. In the last Act, Minerva, Giunone, Giove, and Nettuno all communicate with each other in ornate recitative reminding us of Orfeo.

The character of Iro, a parasite “nutritionally” dependent of Penelope’s suitors, exploits the comical aria convention. As Pirrotta puts it: “Self-consciousness of operatic conventions lends itself to intentional caricature.” Iro is the perfect caricature. The fact that a parasite like him sings is in itself comical. Pirrotta rightly observe that the incongruity is in part what makes comical characters comical. Rosand interpretation of the character goes further as she argues that Iro brings light to the opera as a whole. Rosand, compares Seneca of l’Incoronazione di Poppea to Iro and suggests that: “Iro’s body representing the weakness of the flesh, is in effect set against the moral strength, the chaste love, of Penelope.” In this light, Iro’s death suggests that spirit will triumph over the body in the end.

  However, Love more than anything else is the prominent justification for singing in Il ritorno. Ordinary characters as Melanto and Eurimaco sing their love for each other in the first act. The suitors frequently sing their love for Penelope, regardless of how honest they might be. Throughout the opera the language of Love is clearly identifiable because of its systematic setting in ternary meter. In this context, Penelope stands out of the opera as the character that refuses to yield to the language of love. As Tim Carter points out: “her refusal (inability?) to sing rather than speak is one of the most striking feature of Il ritorno.” Because of her intense depression over Ulysses’ absence, there really are no reasons for her to sing and therefore Monteverdi sets her role almost entirely to recitative thus preserving the verisimilitude of the opera. It is also important to note that most of her recitative is set to d minor.

  Using the above arguments, many authors have pointed out that Penelope stays immaculately faithful to Ulysses throughout the opera. As Carter says, Penelope successfully resists Time and Fortune, the first two allegorical characters present in the opera’s prologue.Il ritorno’s questions is: Will she be able to resist Love? This question is better framed in the context of the opera’s prologue. In my sense, Love does not act independently of Time and Fortune. Could Penelope’s resistance have been overestimated? Is it possible that with Time and Constance the suitors would have truly succeeded in convincing Penelope? She does after all, yield to the pressure imposed on her by the suitors.

  In comparison with the first Act of the opera where Penelope sings mostly in d, the second Act offers a lighter tone on her part. Act II, scene V, is the first example of this lighter atmosphere. (see Appendix I) In her response to the suitors ‘Non voglio amar, no, no,’ Penelope sings to triple-time music. Carter has rightly said of this passage that it is a: “foot-stamping refrain…which denies its status as aria even as it runs its petulant triple-time course.”

  However, could this scene be an indication of Penelope’s declining resistance to seduction? Monteverdi could have well set her refusal to recitative but he chose the triple-time aria. In addition, the whole scene is in C which, as pointed out by Chafe is closely associated to joy (allegrezza) in the opera. Both the suitors and Ulysses (at the end of the opera) call upon Penelope to let her joy break out and in both cases the scene is set to C. In my sense, Penelope’s refusal is not one that leaves no room for the suitors to hope. To some extent, she seems pleased to be courted while she repeatedly says no. Additionally, she gives a clue of her possible weakening when she says:

  Come sta dubbio

  un ferro se, se, fra due calamite

  da due parti diverse egli è chiamato, cosi

  sta in forse il core

  nel tripartito amore. 

  (Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Penelope, Act II, Scene V)

  However, she adds that only those who do not know Love are ignorant of its cruelty. Penelope finishes on an A triad leaving some ambiguity about her final thought. The door seemingly remains open for the suitors to insist again.

  Act II of scene XII is central to the opera. It begins with a duel between Ulysses and Iro that Ulysses win. Interestingly, Penelope congratulates the winner while singing in C, referencing perhaps the tonality’s symbolic quality discussed above. In the next few moments, the suitors again try to win the queen’s love as they offer great gifts and consecutively romance her. Penelope finally decides to hold a tournament to settle who will be allowed to marry her. Her response to the suitors’ wooing is set to recitative mostly in G, a tone indicating some receptivity on her part. Most significantly, her decision to hold the tournament is highlighted by a repeated series of C chords. Temporarily forgetting Ulysses, the C chord announces that she is about to let go of her resistance and abandon herself to joy. (see Appendix II) However, a moment after she regrets her decision and returns to her usual depressing d.

  While the suitors ultimately fail to fire Ulysses’ arc, they have succeeded at convincing Penelope. This scene, in my sense shows the temporary triumph of Time and persistence over chaste Love. Penelope also evokes a prodigious effect of heaven and stars to explain her sudden decision hence, mixing in Fate in the equation. In this scene however, Monteverdi carefully avoided to set Penelope’s part to triple-time music as he did in the previous act. He preferred to portray Penelope in a more austere mood as she was taking her defenses down. In this way, Penelope remains fateful to Ulysses while the harmony betrays her heart. Unsurprisingly, after the unsuccessful tournament, Penelope immediately returns to her depressing key of d. Ultimately, Ulysses finally convinces her of his identity allowing the opera to finish in a triple-time love duet expectedly set in C.

  As we have seen in this essay, early Venetian operas creators were struggling to establish a new genre. Their intellectual background made them self-conscious of the problems of verisimilitude and they tried to make the audience “suspend their disbelief” through the use of different conventions. As exemplified by his first Venetian opera, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Monteverdi did not escape this historical reality. Through the very subtle combination of recitative, song, and harmonic symbolism, the composer succeeded at preserving the verisimilitude of Penelope and the opera. Monteverdi demonstrates his mastery of the handling of those issues and his thorough comprehension of the workings of Human Frailty.



  Carter, Tim. "’In Love's Harmonious Consort’"?: Penelope and the Interpretation of Il

ritorno d'Ulisse in patria.” Cambridge Opera Journal 5 (1993): 1-16.



  Monteverdi, Claudio. Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Monteverdi-Ensemble Opernhaus






Tomlinson, “Pastoral and Musical Magic in the Birth of Opera,” p. 13.

Tim Carter, "’In Love's Harmonious Consort’"?: Penelope and the Interpretation of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria,” Cambridge Opera Journal 5 (March 1993): 1-16; see p.2.

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