Sunday, December 16, 2012


Moteverdi's L'Orfeo tells a story that makes some unusual points:

1. In one of the variations of the introduction, the shepherds and nymphs wish both "lust and happiness" for the couple (Orpheus and Eurydice).   Lust?  Maybe that was a fashionable wedding wish in 1607, or was that intended to be shocking even then?

2. Orpheus goes to Hades promising to stay there if he were not able to bring Eurydice back.    When he fails the promise seems to be forgotten.   Orpheus's father Apollo is able to convince him to accept immortality in the heavens, somehow being with Eurydice in Hades was not so important any more.   Is lust no longer a factor in the afterlife?
In fact, Plato's representation of Orpheus is that of a coward, as instead of choosing to die in order to be with the one he loved, he instead mocked the gods by trying to go to Hades and get her back alive. Since his love was not "true"—he did not want to die for love—he was actually punished by the gods, first by giving him only the apparition of his former wife in the underworld, and then by being killed by women.  [from:] 
3. Orpheus has a skill that can charm animals in the woods, and even convince the stones to dance.  His music lulled Charon to sleep, charmed Persephone and Hades to allow Eurydice to return to the world above.   Can music really calm the beast and heal the soul ?  

4. The story idea, that music (inspired by love) can overcome death (or that anything can overcome death) is clearly a fantasy, but tantalizing.    Classical Greece (4th and 5th centuries BCE) venerated Orpheus as "the greatest of poets and musicians".  Tough act to follow.  

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