Claudio Monteverdi
(1567-1643)

 

Italian composer. Monteverdi's first major employment was at the Gonzaga court at Mantua, where he stayed until 1612, after which he was appointed maestro di cappella at S Marco in Venice. He composed several books of madrigals which bridge the stylistic gap between renaissance and baroque (some aroused critical opposition c. 1600 for their daring clashes and bold melodic leaps), and church music including the celebrated Vespers.
His first opera, Orfeo (Mantua, 1607), to a libretto by Striggio, is generally regarded as the first great opera. Although Orfeo is modelled to a large part on the first Florentine operas, particularly Euridice (Rinuccini, Peri and Caccini, 1600), adopting and enriching their form of declamation (recitative), it also makes a significant departure from that style by reintegrating elements from the intermedio tradition such as choruses and more lyrical solos; the instrumental colour is also striking.
Monteverdi's second opera, Arianna (Mantua, 1608), to a libretto by Rinuccini, was the most famous opera of its day, especially the lament which Arianna sings over her desertion by Theseus. The music for Arianna is lost, but the lament survived on its own in two later versions: a five-voice madrigal and a monody. Only two other operas by Monteverdi have survived, although it is known from his letters and other documents that he had been involved in several other projects both in Mantua and in Venice.
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1643) were each written for the public opera in Venice, and reflect the new ideas in musical style and dramaturgy which developed in that new environment. The latter in particular finds favour with modern audiences as, despite the framework of intervening gods and goddesses, it tells a naturalistic and historically-based story of lust, betrayal, and the triumph of evil over (relatively) good.