Opera was an invention of the Renaissance, starting around the year 1600. Perhaps the world’s first full-scale opera, or one of the first, was L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, composed in 1607. I have seen L’Orfeo several times at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt am Main, as staged by David Hermann, and once, in a very different production by John Dew, in Darmstadt. More recently, I saw a brilliant production of L’Orfeo (saw it twice, in fact, because I liked it so much) done by young singers, dancers and musicians at the opera house in Reims, France.
Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1576 and lived here for the first fifteen years of his life, until 1591. He probably received his first musical training at the Cremona Cathedral from the composer Marc’Antonio Ingegneri (1547-1592).
At age fifteen Monteverdi moved to Mantua, where he was employed first as a singer and viola player, later as the orchestra conductor, at the court of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga. In his forties Monteverdi moved to Venice, where he spent the rest of his life as the conductor and resident composer at the Basilica of San Marco.
In addition to madrigals and other religious music, Monteverdi composed some eighteen operas, but the only ones that have survived are L’Orfeo from the year 1607, Combattimenti (1624), Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641) and L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642). I have seen beautiful productions of all of these in Frankfurt am Main in recent years (and Poppea also in Stuttgart).
When I was in Cremona they were advertising a Monteverdi Festival, to be held in May 2008.
Here’s a photo I took in Innsbruck, Austria, showing a portrait of Claudio Monteverdi along with some historical musical instruments at the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum.
My photos in this post are from 2006 and 2008. I revised the text in 2017.