Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo : Speaking in Song

Ottavio Dantone

Synopsis: Contemporary performances of Claudio Monteverdi’s <i>L’Orfeo</i>, the score for which was first printed in 1607, require adaptations in terms of staging, distribution and performance practice. In this interview, recorded on the stage of the Teatro Comunale di Ferrare, one of the few remaining Italian style theatres, amidst preparations for the staging of <i>L’Orfeo</i>, conductor, cembalist and basso continuo player Ottavio Dantone demonstrates the importance of understanding the modernity of Monteverdi’s musical language. Dantone demonstrates the richness of his rhetorical figures, forms, phrases, and the blending of the harmony and rhythm of the word and singing in recitar cantando. Accompanying himself on the harpsichord, Dantone opens up a new sense of appreciation for Monteverdi’s scientific approach to conveying emotions and affects through musical language. Whilst emphasising that Monteverdi’s instrumentation indications are rather precise, Dantone points out that one still needs to make choices—based on the aesthetic knowledge of both the repertoire and the treatises. Continuo player, in particular, must be aware of the fact that at the time the difference between modality and tonality was still important. But the instrumentation choices must also relate to the space in which the opera is performed—<i>L’Orfeo</i> was originally performed with the instruments at the same level as the singers, and this staging of the opera by Pier Luigi Pizzi retains this closeness.


Ottavio Dantone, conductor, outstanding cembalo and organ player and a basso continuo autodidact, demonstrates the power of music and word deployed by the 17th century style of singing known as recitar cantando by performing particularly relevant moments from Claudio Monteverdi´s L’Orfeo, the first true opera. Dantone elaborates on what makes Monteverdi’s musical language and dramaturgical approach so modern, and advocates for intuition in adapting performances to contemporary needs so as to retain a fidelity to Monteverdi’s intention to convey the emotional content as faithfully as possible. Though originally intended as podcast only, this interview was also filmed so as to capture more fully the context and Dantone’s performance.

You can find out more about Ottavio Dantone and his ensemble Accademia Bizantina on

© Armin Linke / Harfenlabor 2022
Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND International 4.0

Cite:&&Ottavio Dantone, <i>Monteverdi's L'Orfeo: Speaking in Song</i>, by Studio Armin Linke / Harfenlabor, May 3, 2022,, MP4, 42:50,