Notes and Editorial Reviews
Claudio Monteverdi's 'L'Orfeo' is generally considered the first operatic masterpiece. Written in an attempt to emulate what was thought to be the performance style of the ancient Greeks, Monteverdi and his librettist created a nearly perfect union of drama, text and music that composers from Gluck to Wagner would, at various times, attempt to emulate and remake in their own image. The famous story is economically told, albeit with more principals than Gluck would employ for his famous reform opera over a century later. Unlike the later Italian works of the 17th century, 'L'Orfeo' was not a commercial enterprise and correspondingly used a much larger instrumental ensemble than would later be the norm, though there is nothing like a definitive orchestral score so each performer has extensive editorial choices to make in realizing the work for performance.
John Eliot Gardiner fields a full chamber orchestra and chorus in his edition. The cast is made up of many of the finest singers of the early 1980s, headed by Anthony Rolf Johnson as a particularly mellifluous Orfeo. John Tomlinson, later a famous Wotan, is heard here at the beginning of his career.