Jacopo Peri and the early Opera

Jacopo Peri

Jacopo Peri

On October 6, 1600, Jacopo Peri’s opera Euridice was performed for the first time, being 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. In creating the music for Euridice, Peri envisioned a vocal style that is half sung and half spoken.The work has established in opera the dual resource of aria and recitative, and it explores the use of solo, ensemble and choral singing.With Euridice composer Jacopo Peri managed to establish sound principles for operatic composition.

Jacobo Peri was born in Rome and studied in Florence with Cristofano Malvezzi. Peri worked at several churches as an organist and singer. Peri later started to work in the Medici court as a tenor singer and keyboard player and later on as a composer. Peri’s earliest works were incidental music for plays, intermedi and madrigals.

In the 1590s, Jacobo Peri became associated with Jacopo Corsi, the local leading patron of music. They believed contemporary art was inferior to classical Greek and Roman works, and decided to attempt to recreate Greek tragedy, as they understood it. Their work added to that of the Florentine Camerata of the previous decade, which produced the first experiments in monody, the solo song style over continuo bass which eventually developed into recitative and aria. Later, they brought in the poet Ottavio Rinuccini who was asked to write a text. The result was the famous work ‘Dafne’, which is on this day often refered to as the first work in a new form, opera.

Next, Rinuccini and Peri collaborated on Euridice, which was probably first performed on 6 October 1600 at the Palazzo Pitti. Unlike Dafne, it has survived to the present day. The work made use of recitatives, a new development which went between the arias and choruses and served to move the action along.

Peri introduced further operas, often collaborating with other composers and wrote a number of other pieces for various court entertainments. Few of his pieces are still performed today, and even by the time of his death his operatic style was looking rather old-fashioned when compared to the work of relatively younger reformist composers such as Claudio Monteverdi. Peri’s influence on those later composers, however, was large.

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