Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Free Opera Webcast:  L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi


Orpheus and Eurydice, painting by Edward Poynter

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo recounts the ancient story of Orpheus, who after celebrating his wedding, must descend to Hades in a quest to bring back Eurydice, his bride, who has died of a snake bite.  After beguiling the powers that be with song, he is told that he may reclaim Eurydice–but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?):  he cannot look back at her to see if she is following as he leads her back to the world of the living.

L’Orfeo is one of the first operas, written in 1607, and it is still performed today.  Monteverdi didn’t invent opera (Jacopo Peri did), but as Howard Goodall puts it, Monteverdi was the first one to write good opera.1

You can now see Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for free on The Opera Platform.  The opera is presented by the Komische Oper Berlin, with new orchestration by Elena Kats-Chernin.  The opera is performed in German.  There are no subtitles, but here are some libretto links:  in German, in English and ItalianThe full score may be found here.

The opera will be available until June 30, 2017.  Here’s the trailer.

And here you can see a lively aria from the opera.  This does not sound like music from 1607!   I hope you will enjoy it.



  1. BBC Howard Goodall’s Story of Music Episode 1 of 6: The Age of Discovery (time stamp 53:18); also Goodall, Howard, The Story of Music. New York: Penguin Books, 2013, pp. 69-74.


Image attribution: Orpheus and Eurydice, painting by Edward Poynter, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, .


3 thoughts on “Free Opera Webcast:  L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi

  1. Wow! Well, I have very mixed feelings about this production. It’s energetic, slick and audience-friendly, and oh-so-Peter-Sellars; the lively dance bits are great fun. And some of the more expressive, intimate moments are moving. But the orchestration is so far over the top, and the whole ethos/aesthetic of the production is so far removed from the timbre and feel of Monteverdi’s sound-world that it truly falsifies the work. Is the only way to appeal to modern audiences to so reinvent and pop-ify a work like this? I sure hope not. But maybe it will encourage folks to hear and see more respectful (and equally lively and engaging) productions- I’m not expecting (or wanting) musicological purity, but something that doesn’t so totally reinvent the sonic world of this masterpiece. At what point does a re-imagining become insulting both to the work itself and the audience? How far do we need to go to build audiences? Anyway, I so appreciate your finding and passing along this stuff, Chris- if it ends up making a few more Monteverdi fans, it will have been a great service!

    Grumpily, but gratefully –



    • Excellent points, Tom. I struggle with this art/pop balance every day in my work, also. I imagine that, as a living art, there has to be room for some re-interpretation, some popularizing, to create an audience for the more historically accurate versions, or shall we say those that focus primarily on the high art of the work. And who knows what these performances sounded like to their original audiences? Shakespeare was played to an audience that very much participated, a very different arrangement than what we usually have. Regardless, let’s hope this type of production keeps the flame alive. And with the right liquid accompaniment, this performance could be great fun.


  2. I quite agree. Having seen ORPHEO through many versions, this is merely a drag, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Paul O’Dette/Stephen Stubbs performance (was it last year?) where it was historical, in many senses…(Boston Early Music Festival performance)…this performance, after witnessing many excellent ones, leaves me cold…to those it may…but for myself (& I suspect many others) it’s a disaster: better to have taken the idea & written a NEW work based on the legend…


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