Euridice (Peri)

Euridice (also Erudice or Eurydice) is an opera by Jacopo Peri, with additional music by Giulio Caccini. It is the earliest surviving opera, Peri's earlier Dafne being lost. (Caccini wrote his own "Euridice" even as he supplied music to Peri's opera, published this version before Peri's was performed, in 1600, and got it staged two years later.) The libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini is based on books X and XI of Ovid's Metamorphoses[1] which recount the story of the legendary musician Orpheus and his wife Euridice.

Opera by
The Prologue, from the score published in Florence in 1600
LibrettistOttavio Rinuccini
Based onOvid's Metamorphoses
6 October 1600 (1600-10-06)
Palazzo Pitti, Florence

The opera was first performed in Florence on 6 October 1600 at the Palazzo Pitti with Peri himself singing the role of Orfeo.[2]

Composition history

Euridice was created for the marriage of King Henry IV of France and Maria de Medici. The composition is typically considered to be the second work of modern opera, and the first such musical drama to survive to the present day. (The first, Dafne, was written by the same authors in 1597.)

Since both the libretto and score were dedicated to the new Queen of France, Marie de' Medici, some scholars have recognized a possible parallel between Euridice and Orfeo and the Queen and King of France. While the comparison is readily made, some scholars argue that the traits of King Henry IV are different from Orfeo, especially with respect to Orfeo's most famous deed. Orfeo loved Euridice so much that he journeyed to Hell and back, quite literally, to unite once more with his beloved wife while King Henry IV wouldn't travel as far as Florence to retrieve Medici.[1]

At the premiere, many of the other roles were filled by members of Caccini's entourage, including his daughter Francesca Caccini. Peri composed all of the music for the first production, but owing to the integral involvement of Caccini and his performers, some of Peri's music was finally replaced by that of Caccini. When Caccini discovered that Peri intended to publish the opera with the added Caccini pieces, he rushed to finish his own version of Euridice using the same libretto, and managed to have his published before Peri's. In his preface, Peri notes that all of the music was completed by the date of the first performance earning his efforts the designation Prima Euridice.

In creating the music for Euridice, Peri envisioned a vocal style that is half sung and half spoken. For less dramatic parts he created vocal lines close to the style of spoken language set over a sustained accompaniment. For impassioned scenes he explored stronger and more rapid melodies with steadily changing harmonies. Peri's critics have observed that within the score of Euridice, he created no musically remarkable examples of either. However, he did use ranges and widths of register, as well as frequency and power of cadences, to distinguish different characters and dramatic moods.[1] The voice and accompaniment are carefully paced to emphasize the tension and release in the text. Rhythmic and melodic inflections in the vocal lines closely, almost scientifically, imitate dramatic speech. In addition, impassioned exclamations are set with unprepared dissonances and unexpected movements in the bass.

All qualitative judgments aside, even his greater detractors admit that with Euridice Peri managed to establish sound principles for operatic composition.[3]The work establishes in opera the dual resource of aria and recitative, and it explores the use of solo, ensemble and choral singing.


Role Voice type
La Tragedia soprano castrato
Euridice soprano
Orfeo tenor
Aminta, a shepherd tenor
Arcetro, a shepherd contralto castrato
Tirsi, a shepherd tenor
Caronte bass
Dafne boy soprano
Plutone bass
Proserpina soprano castrato
Radamanto tenor
Venere soprano castrato
Nymphs and shepherds, shades and deities of hell


Peri's Euridice [4]tells the story of the musician Orpheus and Euridice from Greek Mythology. According to myth, Orpheus was a great musician who journeyed to the underworld to plead with the gods to revive his wife Euridice after she had been fatally injured.

Act 1

It opens with a simple melody by a singer representing the Tragic Muse, La Tragedia, and a short ritornello. Shepherds nearby and the Tragic Muse sing a conversation in recitatives and choruses, Daphne enters to notify everyone that Euridice has been fatally bitten by a serpent.

Scene 1

All of the nymphs and shepherds gather to celebrate the wedding of Orfeo and Euridice.

Scene 2

Orfeo is content after his wedding but is soon interrupted by Dafne. She brings the terrible news that Euridice has been bitten by a venomous snake and has died. Orfeo then vows to rescue her from the underworld.

Scene 3

Arcetro recounts that while Orfeo lay weeping, Venus, goddess of love, carries him off in her chariot.

Act 2

This opens with Orpheus pleading with Venere, Plutone, Prosperina, Caronte, and Radamanto in the underworld for the return of his beloved wife Euridice. Nearly the entire scene is carried in recitative. When the act closes, Orpheus is back with Tirsi and the other shepherds.

Scene 4

Venus and Orfeo arrive at the gates of the underworld. Venus suggests that through his legendary voice he might persuade Pluto to return Euridice to life. Orfeo succeeds and is allowed to leave with his bride.

Scene 5

Orfeo and Euridice return from the underworld and rejoice.

Musical numbers

Parts[5] Scenes Individual works Characters
Prologue Scene 1 Prologo – Io, che d'alti sospir vaga e di pianti La Tragedia
Act 1 Scene 1
Ninfe, ch'i bei crin d'oro Pastore del coro, Ninfa del coro
Vaghe ninfe amorose Arcetro, Pastore del coro, Ninfa del coro
Donne, ch'a' miei diletti Euridice, Ninfa del coro
Credi, ninfa gentile Aminta, Pastore del coro
In mille guise e mille Euridice, Coro
Al canto, al ballo, all'ombra, al prato adorno Coro, Pastore del coro, Ninfa del coro, Altre Ninfe del coro
Scene 2
Antri, ch'a' miei lamenti Orfeo
Sia pur lodato il ciel, lodato Amore Arcetro, Orfeo
Tirsi viene in scena sonando la presente Zinfonia Orfeo, Tirsi
Deh come ogni bifolco, ogni pastore Arcetro, Orfeo
Lassa! Che di spavento e di pietate Dafne, Arcetro, Orfeo
Per quel vago boschetto Dafne, Arcetro
Non piango e non sospiro Orfeo
Ahi! Mort' invid' e ria Arcetro, Dafne, Ninfa del coro
Sconsolati desir, gioie fugaci Aminta, Ninfa del coro
Cruda morte, ahi pur potesti Coro, Ninfa del coro, Due Ninfa e un Pastore del coro
Scene 3
Se fato invido e rio Arcetro, Coro
Con frettoloso passo Arcetro, Dafne, Coro
Io che pensato havea di starmi ascoso Arcetro, Pastore del coro
Se de' boschi i verdi onori Coro
Poi che dal bel sereno Pastore del coro, Coro
Act 2
Scene 4 Scorto da immortal guida Venere, Orfeo
L'oscuro varc'onde siam giunti a queste Venere
Funeste piagge, ombrosi orridi campi Orfeo
Ond'e cotanto ardire Plutone
Deh, se la bella Diva Orfeo
Dentro l'infernal porte Plutone, Orfeo
O Re, nel cui sembiante Prosperpina
A si soavi preghi Orfeo, Plutone
Sovra l'eccelse stelle Caronte, Plutone, Orfeo
Trionfi oggi pietà ne' campi inferni Plutone, Orfeo,
Poi che gl'eterni imperi Deita D'Inferno primo coro, Secondo coro, Radamanto
Scene 5 Già del bel carro ardente Arcetro, Coro
Voi, che sì ratt'il volo Aminta, Coro, Arcetro
Quand'al tempio n'andaste, io mi pensai Aminta, Pastore del coro
Chi può del cielo annoverar le stelle Aminta, Arcetro
Gioite al canto mio selve frondose Orfeo, Ninfa del coro
Quella, quella son io, per cui piangeste Euridice, Ninfa del coro, Dafne, Arcetro, Orfeo, Aminta
Modi or soavi or mesti Orfeo
Felice semideo, ben degna prole Aminta
Ritornello strumentale Tutto il coro
Biond' arcier, che d'alto monte (ritornello instrumentale)

Various chorus names are as they appear in the original Italian score. Pastore, Ninfa/Ninfe, and Deita D'Inferno refer to choruses of shepherds, nymphs and Deities of Hell respectively.

See also


  1. "Le tre Euridici: Characterization and Allegory in the Euridici of Peri and Caccini". Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music. Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2011-06-23.
  2. Pietropaolo, Domenico and Parker, Mary Ann (2011). The Baroque Libretto: Italian Operas and Oratorios in the Thomas Fisher Library at the University of Toronto, p. 60. University of Toronto Press
  3. Oldmeadow, p. 121
  4. Hill
  5. Sources for the libretto divide the work into a prologue (one scene) and one Act with six scenes. Modern recordings tend to divide the opera into a prologue, a first act, with scenes 1–3, and a second act, with scenes 4–5. It is unclear why these different descriptions have emerged, but the confusion is largely cosmetic: in the end, the score, libretto and recording cited here all contain the same individual musical numbers.
  • Hill, John Walter (2005). Baroque Music: Music in Western Europe, 1580–1750. Norton. ISBN 0-393-97800-1.
  • Oldmeadow, Earnest (1909). Great Musicians. Forgotten Books.
Other sources
  • Brown, Howard Mayer. "Euridice (i)", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed February 7, 2006), (subscription access).
  • Burkholder, Peter J., Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca (1960/2010). A History of Western Music, 8th edition. New York: Norton. 986 pages
  • Porter, William V.. "Jacopo Peri", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed February 7, 2006), (subscription access).
  • Weiss, Piero, and Richard Taruskin (1984). Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. Belmont: Scrimer. 556 pages.
  • Peri, Jacopo (1995). Euridice / Jacopo Peri. Authentic CD .P441 A.1–5 Arts Music
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