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1607 __ Orfeo - the use of echo effects
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Comment : [Although] the ritornello returns from hell {at the end of Act IV); instead of leaving the instrumentation unspecified, as on the previous occasion, Monteverdi calls for the same instruments that had orchestrated the descent into Hades in Act III.the cornet, trombone and regal. There are traditionnaly the sounds of the underworld. In the final act, the ritornello brings the abyss into Arcadia, and the plenitude that started the opera is nox unsung. Orpheus may sing, but his music no longer enchants nature; the dancing nymphs and melodious shepherds have deserted the landscape, and Orpheus is left alone within the void constructed by the ritornello, alienated from nature with only the voice of his “echo” returning “each last word” of his lament. Indeed, with his echo, Orpheus becomes an allegory of the ritornello’s solipsistic structure where presence is only a reverberation that orbits autonomously in the hollow of the empty self. He has become instrumental music in the echo-system of his own ego. And to underline the point, Monteverdi changes mode, from the soft (cantus mollis) to the hard (cantus durus) hexachord to symbolise the indifference of an obdurate nature that can only reply with the disenchanted echoes of the mountains. (Daniel K.L. Chua)The echo concept is of course important acoustically, as we knwo from Orfeo and the Vespers of 1610, [but] the echo idea is also important musically. [...] The artists had to calculate their speeds with care and circumspection, for a tempos suitable for one room would not be right for another. What is more, every musician and every director of music had to consider the damping effect brought about the voluminous court costumes worn at that time by both men and women. Those costumes vould absorb sound, they would reduce resonance time, and permit marginally quicker tempo. [...] A pity we cannot visualize the scene at Palazzo Mocenigo, now the Royal Danieli Hotel, where the premiere of “Il Combattimmento” took place in 124. One thing I am certain : Monteverdi, with his remarkably sensitive ear, tested out the room well in advance to ensure the acoustic ould project.not absorb.the hammered syllables [...].He would take no chances, permit no failures. [...] By February of 1628 problems had been largely solved, and the chief architect Francesco Guitti was able to write ti the authorities, “At last Monteverdi has found the right sound-effect, because i made a place ready for his use and he very much likes it”. Much experimentation was necessary in the placing the musicians, for there were five orchestras seated in the “cortile da basso”, where the torneo “Mercurio e Marte” was to take place. Not only had each group to here the others clearly, but the audience as a whole had to be able to take in everything, whether in front the proscenium, behind it, or above the entrance doors. (Denis Stevens)Orfeo’s “Possento spirto”.and its final elaboration.contains and conceals this other song, a mythic perfornance that exists only by implication. Phantom singin is hidden within present singing, centerd in the famous instrumental echo effects within the virtuoso sreophes, in which paired instruments fill in time between Orfeo’s laments. Thus the prelude or preamble, the song heard by Charon and the theater audience, harbors the primal song without allowing it to be heard. These echoes create a sonic image of voice sent forth through a void. Klaus Theweleit notes that each instrument “quietly repeats from ‘behind’ what the instrument ‘up front’ played loudly, thus bringing the ‘beyond’, which Orpheus seeks to enter, as a presence into the ear of the listener : as if he were already over there, since the tones already are”. This is a blueprint for musical power, in the form of space that is collapsed by sound. At the same time, however, the echoes are also a residue or remnant, something left behind. The instruments that echo one another over three verses.the violins, cornets and harp.do not mirror the Orfeo-voice that is present and singing. INstead, in each verse there is a strange set of threefold repetitions. Orfeo sings, and an instrument repeats the gesture, opening its “mouth” to “sing in turn yet not singing the melody; then another instrument behind both of them open its mouth to repeat what the first instrument had sung. (Carolyn Abbate)
French comment : En 1607, Claudio Monteverdi présente son Orfeo où, entre autres nouveautés, la couleur des sons (c’est-à-dire l’effet psychologique que les divers instruments peuvent créer chez l’auditeur) devient un élément scénographique, elle aide à définir les lieux de l’opéra et à les caractériser émotivement. Il a a un moment où la mise en scène musicale de Monteverdi devient particulièrement subtile : c’est la scène où Orphée se présente devant Charon qu’il tente d’ensorceler, d’apitoyer et de convaincre de le faire traverser sur l’autre rive du Léthé afin qu’il entre aux Enfers pour y chercher Eurydice. Dès le début, le chant virtuose d’Orphée trouve un écho (mais de manière non littérale) dans les deux violons, qui ne jouent pas à l’unisson mais le second faisant l’écho du premier (de manière exacte). C’est l’écho de l’écho. Presque à notre insu, Monteverdi n’est-il pas en train de nous faire croire que nous sommes dans une gorge entre des montagnes où l’écho rebondit sur les parois rocheuses ? ou bien dans une immense caverne si profonde que les sons s’y perdent ? et que le chant d’Orphée - qui est encore hors des Enfers - se réduit à ce fragment imprécis qui sera répété avec exactitude par l’environnement qui le fait rebondir ? En outre, les “échos” des violons sont d’abord simples (une gamme ascendante) mais, avec la progression du chant qui devient de plus en plus complexe et virtuose, ils se transforment en arabesques pour finir par exploser en une sorte de spirale où les lignes quoique parallèles donnent l’impression de s’unir, se séparer, se croiser. Mais, à l’écho suivant, il y a une surprise : au moment où Orphée va commencer à raconter à Charon ce qui est arrivé à sa douce épouse, les deux violons sont soudain remplacés par deux cornets; or, le cornet est, parmi les instruments de la Renaissance, celui dont le sons est le plus semblable à la voix humaine, surtout la voix de soprano. On entend donc la Femme, ou du moins son apparence, son ombre ou son fantôme. C’est comme si de lointaines lamentations féminines - dont peut-etre celles de sa bien-aimée - parvenaient à Orphée qui est encore sur le seuil des Enfers. Les sons ont changé et cette modification fait varier l’atmosphère en permanence, elle modifie notre perception de l’espace théâtral. Exemples : réponse en écho (Acte III). (Claudio Ambrosini)
Source : Ambrosini, Claudio (2008), “Son et Espace dans la musique vénitienne”, In Construire l’espace au XVIème siècle, XIV° Colloque du Puy-en-Velay, publication de l’Université de Saint-Étienne, pp.56-65.
Source : Chua, Daniel K.L. (1999), “Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning”, Cambridge University Press, p. 39.
Source : Stevens, Denis (2001), “Monteverdi in Venice”, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, Chapt. 4 Acoutics, Tempo, Interpretation, pp. 116-117.
Source : Abbate, Carolyn (2003), “In Search of Opera”, Princeton Unviserity Press, pp. 20-21.
Urls : http://www.wien2004.ica.org/imagesUpload/pres_254_SUTTON_C-USA%20ILL%2001.pdf?PHPSESSID=4fd5aa626c09bcdc01c5e4bdb09429a6 (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ_mjTTDM5A (last visited )

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