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But fate wills otherwise. Orpheus has hardly finished explaining how trying life was before Eurydice agreed to marriage when a doomladen messenger arrives, too stricken to make immediately clear what has happened to Eurydice. Monteverdi and his librettist are here at their subtlest. Doubts are allowed gradually to mount until finally it is revealed that Eurydice is dead of a snake bite [listen -- 'Mira, deh mira, Orfeo' (Act 2), DVD1 chapter 15, 0:28-1:39]. While the chorus bewails the appalling turn of events, Orpheus laments briefly but then shows his mettle by making for the underworld.

Mario Luperi as Caronte (Charon) in Act 3 of 'Orfeo'. DVD screenshot © 1997 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte
Mario Luperi as Caronte (Charon) in Act 3 of 'Orfeo'. DVD screenshot © 1997 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte

Now indeed the Round Pond becomes the inky waters of Styx, with Charon (Mario Luperi) alert and menacing on the banks. Equipped with a long pole for ferrying the dead, he has no serviceable sort of boat to perform the task. Naturally he is enraged that Orpheus is apparently alive [listen -- 'O tu, ch'innanzi morte' (Act 3), DVD2 chapter 5, 0:00-1:07]. Orpheus sings his utmost and in the Monteverdi original Charon could not be less impressed. It is only when Orpheus strums the lute that Charon's enchantment leads to sleep. Having forgotten his lute, Orpheus must now sing effectively enough or soporifically enough to neutralise Charon.

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Copyright © 18 January 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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