Japan Orfeo composed by Claudio Monteverdi


The fable of Orfeo is structured in a prologue and five acts, each that can be considered self-contained microcosms and each integrating independent expressions of Italian and Japanese performing arts.

The event will be divided into two parts, the first part consisting of the prologue and the 1st and 2nd acts, and the second part consisting of the 3rd, 4th and 5th acts.

The Fable of Orfeo narrates the story of the semi-deity Orfeo who is the incarnation of the spiritual power of Music which enchants and calms animals, men and gods.

The first act opens with the celebration of the marriage of Orpheus with his beloved Eurydice, a festive chorus of shepherds and nymphs with brief solo sections of each of the voice parts: pastore I, pastore II, pastore III, pastore IV, ninfa – who participate in the joy of the demigod. Folk dancers from the Italian mediterranean tradition highlight the festivities. Orpheus and Eurydice sing of the beauty of love and the happiness of marriage, and pray to the gods to protect their happy union. The chorus of the shepherds and nymphs joins together in their prayer.

The dances ‘pizzica’ and ‘taranta’

from the Salento region:

The second act continues in the height of the wedding celebrations when Eurydice leaves the party to find flowers for her garlands, much to her waiting husband’s anxiety when suddenly the happy atmosphere is interrupted by the arrival of the messenger Silvia, bringing with her tragic news.

Fair Eurydice, while roaming the forest with her friends in search of flowers to bring back to Orpheus, was bitten by a snake and died suddenly. The messenger relates that the last words of the unfortunate girl were her cries to her beloved Orpheus. The youth is distraught with grief and despair while the chorus comments on bitter destiny that is capable of precipitating mortals from the heights of joy to the depths of absolute unhappiness. Following a moment of doleful silence and after having lamented his fate, Orpheus decides to challenge divine law: he himself will go to the gates of the Underworld to implore the gods there to give him back his young bride so cruelly torn from him.

Third act: a second metaphoric character appears – the first being La Musica – and accompanies Orpheus to the gates of the kingdom of the dead. It is La Speranza (Hope) to whom the young hero has turned to for comfort in this difficult moment. La Speranza gives him courage but abandons him in the moment when he must cross over to the Underworld. It is here, in total darkness by the shores of the river that separates the living from the dead, that Orpheus encounters Charon, the helmsman of souls of the dead, he who carries the deceased across the river Styx. Charon is amazed to see a living being in the kingdom of the dead, and his hardness will be underlined by the presence of Japanese performance artists who will evoke the difficulty of this meeting through the violence of their expression.

The young hero however knows he can rely on his power of enchantment through song and music, and begins his long song of seduction in his attempt to overwhelm the guardian of Hades. An imposing laser harp, created by the sound artist Pietro Pirelli will join with the Monteverdian orchestra. The rays of light touched by the hands of Orpheus will produce the sounds designated by the written score, producing an extraordinary combination of contemporary sound-physics exploration together with the Baroque music score. Charon is fascinated by the sound of the harp as are the mysterious dancing figures who dance around him expressing their hostility against Orpheus and allows the hero to pass to the other shore.

Noh, Japanese traditional musical theatre performed since the 14th C


Proserpine and Pluto, the divine couple who govern the kingdom of the dead appear in the fourth act. They appear in sumptuous costumes reflecting their belonging to another mysterious world, their entrance is solemn and hieratic. They comment on the unusual event: a mortal dared to pass over the threshold of the land of the dead in order to retrieve his bride, in name of a love that knows how to overcome death. The goddess Proserpine is moved by Orpheus’ grief and fascinated by the sound of the harp, convinces her husband Pluto to be indulgent with the youth and to give his bride back. The beauty and solemnity of the two gods will be underlined by a performance of Japanese artists through a choreography of movement, solemn, extremely slow and other-worldly, underlining the total detachment of the two supernatural and metaphysical entities from the cares of mortals.

Pluto heeds Proserpine’s prayers on the condition that Orpheus does not turn to see his wife until they are both out of the Underworld. Orpheus reclaims his Eurydice but, struck by doubts and a sudden thunder, he turns to gaze on her, disobeying the divine command. Eurydice is again lost forever to the kingdom of the dead and is transported by the same metaphysical beings who appeared with Charon. A chorus of spirits comments on the unhappy fate of Orpheus.

In the fifth act Orpheus laments his fate and despairs at losing his wife for the second time. In a moment of impulsive rage, he condemns love and abandons forever all amorous relations with women, the source of eternal trouble and suffering.

In the finale of the second version, the librettist Alessandro Striggio provides a happy ending that appeases the taste of the Gonzaga court: Apollo, the god of the Sun and of the Arts, father of Orpheus descends from heaven and accompanies his son into the celestial spheres, bringing comfort and peace. The chorus of nymphs and shepherds comments with both joy and melancholy the hero’s passage into the kingdom of the gods.

The librettist Striggio however originally wrote a tragic finale to the opera that was never set to music by Monteverdi. This finale reflects the original myth as found in the Greek and Latin sources, that is, the death of Orpheus at the hands of the Bacchantes, the priestesses of the god Dionysus and the followers of the cult of inebriation and of orgiastic love who, offended by Orpheus’ refusal of women, tear him to pieces to the ferocious sound of drums and flutes.