Today we look at a pivotal moment in music history, the beginning of the baroque. On October 6, 1600, Jacopo Peri’s opera Euridice was premiered. This is the earliest known surviving opera, and is used by many historians to mark the beginning of the Baroque period.
Jacopo Peri had in fact written an earlier opera, from around 1597, titled Dafne, but unfortunately this work has been lost. Probably born in Rome, he studied in Florence with Cristophano Malvezzi, and went on to work in a number of churches as an organist and a singer. He also worked at the Medici court, initially as a tenor and a keyboardist, but later as a composer. In the 1590’s, Peri beame associated with Florence’s leading music patron, Jacopo Corsi. They felt that contemporary art was inferior to classical Greek and Roman works, so they decided to re-create the Greek tragedy as they understood it. Together, with the poet Ottavio Rinuccini, they created the first opera, Dafne, though it was far from what we now understand original Greek Tragedies to be.
Peri and Corsi went on to collaborate in Euridice. It was written for the marriage of Henry IV of France to Maria de Madici, and is based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Euridice contains the first examples or recitative, with Peri carefully pacing the voice and accompaniment to highlight tension and release in the text. The rhythms and melodic inflections in the vocal line are influenced by speech patterns, while impassioned exclamations are set with unprepared dissonances and unexpected movements in the bass.
While this opera is still in existence today, it is rarely performed, and only as a historical curio, with many preferring Montiverdi’s L’Orfeo or Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Today we have a recording of an aria from Peri’s Euridice, though no details of vocalist, orchestra or date of performance is included.
What’s your favourite Orpheo opera? Have you seen a performance of the Peri or Montiverdi versions? What about other famous versions by Gluck, Haydn, Offenbach, Milhaud, Stravinsky or Glass? Let me know in the comments, or write a blog post linking back here, and I’ll include a link below.