Claudio Monteverdi and l’Orfeo, favola in musica: character construction and depiction of emotion

Júlia Coelho - University of North Texas


The construction of character on the early operatic stage by means of musical gestures is an arresting achievement of Italian master Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), a practice first evident in his signature opera L’Orfeo, Favola in Musica. In Monteverdi’s depiction of character, notably that of Orfeo and Apollo, his decisions to express emotion through voice type and musical/rhetorical devices appear at the surface to be connected primarily to contemporary aesthetic concepts and singing style conventions, representing the ideas of morality/character (ethos), reason (logos), and emotion (pathos) in much subtler ways than in his late opera L’incoronazione di Poppea. Monteverdi’s operatic style in Orfeo is indebted to several factors, namely cultural, personal, and social conditions (e.g., his exposure to musical activities in other Italian city-states, his involvement with cultural academies, and the constraints resulting from his Mantuan patronage). Lacking the freedom to write for the public theater as in his later operas, Orfeo can be seen as a result of three determining factors: cultural environment and the patronage system; aesthetics of singing/performance practice; and the influence of cultural academies, in particular the Accademia degli Invaghiti. By re-examining primary sources and re-evaluating several contemporary scholarly studies, this paper aims to further an understanding of Monteverdi’s aesthetic position as it affected his construction of operatic characters and their musical depiction, informed by the three factors above. Such an impact will be discerned using Orfeo’s Possente spirto and the duet between Apollo and Orfeo Saliam, cantando al Cielo (without excluding other excerpts of great importance in this opera) in which similar musical settings represent different dramatic situations.

Full Text

PDF (English)


Registrazione presso la Cancelleria del Tribunale di Pavia n. 552 del 14 luglio 2000 – ISSN elettronico 1826-9001 | Università degli Studi di Pavia Dipartimento di Musicologia | Pavia University Press

Privacy e cookies