About a year ago, I came across these YouTube video clips of a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo, favola in musica. Written for the annual festival in Mantua, L’Orfeo was first performed in the ducal palace in Mantua in 1607 and first published in Venice in 1609. L’Orfeo is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, work in the form that we know as opera.

I was deeply impressed by these clips, so much so that I ordered a DVD of this performance (just check Amazon for the details, if you are so moved). Jordi Savall, whom I have admired and listened to for some time, is a master of the viol da gamba and a magnificent director of music (it is he who has the dramatic entrance at the beginning of the following video clip). This performance is impressively dramatic, and Monteverdi’s music is splendid.

(By the way, the musicians are playing early Baroque instruments, including lutes, the Renaissance harp, and the theorbo.)

Our youngest daughter, only ten years old, loves the opera and – after several weeks of watching it at least once weekly – still asks to watch it occasionally.

From a theological standpoint – and I write knowing that this non-classicist (with no expertise in Renaissance poetry, either) treads ground best walked upon by those with the expertise to do so – the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice bears witness to a desire deep in the human psyche to remain united with those whom we love, to escape the clutches of everlasting death and to share the immortality that only gods possess.  (The opera’s libretto includes, as Orfeo descends into Hades, a quotation from Dante’s L’Inferno, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, a testimony to that cross-pollinization of the pagan and the Christian that characterized much of the European Renaissance.)

This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (1 Timothy 10)

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb.  (Prayer Book burial office, 1979)


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