Ancient Epic in Early Opera: Gagliano's 'La Dafne' and Monteverdi's 'Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria'

Monday, June 3, 2013 - 2:15pm
Conjoint Professor Michael Ewans (University of Newcastle, Australia)
Lecture Theatre, 66 St Giles', Oxford


Marco da Gagliano’s opera La Dafne (1608) is based on an episode from Book I of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ottavio Rinuccini’s libretto imitates the structure of a Greek tragedy, with scenes alternating with choral commentaries. He transformed Ovid’s narrative fairly directly into stage action, but it will be shown that the opera is an allegory glorifying the power of art, and also  has a political dimension. As an example of Gagliano’s music, Apollo’s lament and farewell to the tree will be played on CD.

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640) is the first opera to be based on any epic poem other than Metamorphoses. It is also more complex than any previous opera, with nineteen characters and 33 scenes. This section of the paper will explore librettist Giacomo Badoaro’s changes to the story as told in the Odyssey, especially with regard to Penelope, the suitors and Ulisse; their characters are all modified to raise Renaissance issues, while also retaining some fundamental Homeric values. This involves discussion of how Monteverdi depicted them in his music, and two excerpts will be shown on DVD.