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Monteverdi’s opera “L’Orfeo” was premiered in February 1607, and although not the first opera, is considered the first significant work in the genre of opera, because of its rich instrumentation, blend of story and vocal combinations as well as staging.
The “Toccata” from Monteverdi’s opera “L’Orfeo” is an instrumental work that served as a prelude to the opera, along with the instrumental prologue that followed. It was to be performed three times before the raising of the curtain. The “toccata” is significant because it is a precedent to the subsequent “opera overture” that appeared in later centuries. In its usage in “L’Orfeo”, it is written as a fanfare, rather than as a keyboard showpiece which is what the term “toccata” would later come to denote. The term “toccata” can also refer to a fanfare of trumpets and drums. In this sense, it would announce the beginning of the opera.
Monteverdi’s composition “L’Orfeo” stands out among this time period, however as mentioned before, his was not the first opera. Jacopo Peri’s opera “Euridice” had a brief instrumental ritornello, and most of Monteverdi’s second opera, “L’Arianne”, does not survive. This toccata paved the way for the later Italian and French overture traditions that appear before vocal works.
The “toccata” definitely gives the opera an overall feeling of the grandeur that would be important in opera later. The overture of an opera traditionally foreshadows the drama and action to come, and the fact that Monteverdi used a regal fanfare to open his opera “sets the stage” so to speak for what is to come, and part of what makes “L’Orfeo” an early opera to remember.