Inspired by a Greek myth, also existing in the latin literature (Virgil's Aeneid), L'Orfeo's story starts in the woods, where Orfeo (Georg Nigl), son of Apollo and an outstanding musician, is marrying the beautiful Euridice (Roberta Invernizzi). But a messenger (Sara Mingardo) brings disastrous news: while she was picking up flowers to decorate her long hair, Euridice was bitten by a snake, and died. A naturally sad creature, Orfeo sings his dispair ("Tu se' morta, mia vita, ed io respiro?"/"You are dead, my love, and I am breathing?"). But accompanied by an allegory of hope (Sara Mingardo), "the only solace of afflicted mortals," Orfeo decides he will bring back his spouse from Tartarus, charming the guards of Hell thanks to his divine art... Self-assured ("my only weapon Is my lyre, To which even the most hard-hearted succumb"), he manages to seduce Proserpina – and the audience at the same time thanks to extreme and exquisite virtuosity. Even though Monteverdi chose a happy end for his opera, tragedy dominates over the second part of the work: Orfeo has entered the kingdom of the dead, and Proserpina has allowed him to take Euridice away as long as he would not look at her before they have left Hell; but Orfeo gets weak, glances at his wife, and loses her forever.
Composed at the very beginning of the 17th century, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo is one of the very first operas in history, and was premiered in Mantova in 1607. Alessandro Striggio's libretto, totally inspired by its era, echoes the codes of love poetry in the Renaissance: it is an elegy of the beloved woman, who by gallantry is mostly named by her eyes.
Dressed with grey clothes, with white painting over their faces and arched eyebrows, the characters evolve in the very particular atmosphere of Robert Wilson's productions. They walk and speak with gentle, elegant and almost dancing moves. Bob Wilson also hired ballet dancer Nicola Strada, covered in black feathers: like a prophet of doom, he appears in the background in the prologue and during the wedding ceremony. More than ever, Robert Wilson's scenes are made up of symbols and seem to be thought after lots of artistic references.
Paul McCreesh, Graham Vick – Plácido Domingo (Bajazet), Jennifer Holloway (Irene), Sara Mingardo (Andronico) – Teatro Real Madrid
Philippe Jordan, Robert Wilson – Stéphane Degout (Pelléas), Elena Tsallagova (Mélisande), Anne Sofie von Otter (Geneviève), Vincent le Texier (Golaud)