Stage & Spectacle
Monteverdi in Mantua
Despite the difficulties in mounting such an ambitious production,
Vincenzo Gonzaga’s wish to see Il pastor fido performed in
Mantua became reality in 1598. He had been
planning it for almost a decade: rehearsals had begun in 1591 and may have been one of the reasons why
Monteverdi was hired on in the first place. The intermedio’s abrupt cancelletion
Vincenzo I Gonzaga
(Wikimedia Commons) later that year was said to have followed on the death of Cardinal Gianvincenzo Gonzaga, but there were rumours about the displeasure of Vincenzo’s wife, who was inexplicably upset because the production was to honour the Marchese di Grana, one of Vincenzo’s infidelities.
Perhaps Vincenzo’s obsession with his intermedio began with the 1589 Florentine presentation of La Pellegrina, which he almost certainly attended. He would also have been there for the 1600 celebrations surrounding the marriage of Maria de’ Medici to the new French king and would have seen Euridice. There is even speculation that he took Monteverdi with him as part of his retinue, and that the latter saw the performance as well. Certainly Monteverdi would have heard about the event and, at the very least, seen the score.
Thus for the customary revelry of the carnival season preceding Lent in 1607, Mantua’s own opera was planned,
then known as a favola in musica (“fable in music”). Aside from the
Florentine works, few entirely sung stage works had ever been mounted anywhere: Agostino Agazzari’s
Eumelio was performed in Rome the year before. Naturally as Mantua’s
maestro di capella, composition of this newest work fell to Monteverdi, based on a
Ducal Palace, Mantua
(Wikimedia Commons) libretto by Alessandro Striggio, whose namesake father had also composed for the Mantuan court.
Yet for Monteverdi, this was a difficult time. His wife Claudia had been ill since the end of the previous year, exacerbating financial difficulties that already stemmed from their employment in Mantua, and she spent time in Cremona under the care of Monteverdi’s father. Worse was to come. She died in September of 1607 and was buried in Cremona, but the Gonzagas continued to press an exhausted and disillusioned Monteverdi to return to Mantua. New music was in continuous demand, and the planned wedding of Francesco in 1608 meant an especially sumptuous festival would have to be prepared.
Vincenzo’s sought–after opera Orfeo was presented 24 February 1607 at the Duke’s palace under the auspices of the Accademia degli Invaghiti. It met with such acclaim that it was performed again a week later for the benefit of the city’s public. A commemorative score was published by Ricciardo Amadino in 1609, then again in 1615 to keep up with demand. Orfeo became one of the most famous operas ever.