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Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo and the development of Baroque Op

Any aspiring musician in this day and age should expect certain things from opera productions; drama, lyricism, and sensitive instrumental accompaniment. But if we observe operas written in the 16th century, we will find a very different style of vocal drama, a formality and dryness that has all but vanished in operas developing past the baroque, classical, and romantic eras. Then, is it possible to trace the seeds of expressive opera back to a specific work or composer at the dawn of the baroque? When asked to consider this question, the opera Orfeo, and its composer, Claudio Monteverdi, inevitably comes to mind, as possessing these seeds for future growth. But how can one justify giving credit to Orfeo, and to Monteverdi, for such radical change in the opera world over the years to follow? _____Before Monteverdi entered the baroque opera scene (which was early in the 17th century), opera was established as a lavish and extravagant, although not entirely refined art. Evolving from the intermedi and the madrigal-cycles of the late 16th century, opera was reserved for royalty and their special events, and was more theatrical than musical. Opera relied on costumes and scenery to bedazzle the audience, rather than the expressive lines that Monteverdi would later write into his recitatives (Grout 277-278). Instrumentation was sparse, and usually unspecified. Composers and scholars alike could not agree on the extent to which Greek theatre (almost exclusively emulated in opera and theatre at the time) should be sung, or performed. A Florentine scholar named Girolamo Mei theorized that the entire drama should be sung, in his books De Modis Musicis. Most of Mei’s research took place in the 1560s, and was later discussed by an informal gathering of scholars in Florence known as the Camarata, lead by Giovanni Bardi (Grout 279-180). At the same time in Mantua, Cesare Gonzaga (Duke of Guastalla) founded the Mantuan Academy (the group t…

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