An Exhibit of the Diehn Composers Room, Old Dominion University Libraries

Introduction to the Exhibit

The subject of this exhibit is the long history of musical drama, from its inception in the early 17th century to the present. Its unifying theme is the myth of Orpheus, the master lyrist and singer of Greek mythology who sought his dead wife Eurydice in the underworld and, through his all-too human imperfection, lost her forever. Orpheus has been a theme of operas from the very beginning, and its idea of boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl back (with some variations) is common in musicals. We have mentioned it here in operas by Monteverdi, Offenbach, and Glass, and alluded to it through musicals by Larson, Gershwin, Sondheim, and Lloyd Webber.

Our representation of the scope and depth of this hybrid genre, admittedly a difficult task (if not a fool's errand), has been informed by three historical events.

The first is the 400th anniversary in 2007 of the composition of the world's first dramatically viable opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo. Though Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini's Euridice, often given the title of first opera, pre-dates Orfeo by seven years, Monteverdi's musical creation has both greater affective depth and better defined structure than Peri's. Regardless of which is first, Peri and Monteverdi's operas helped define the entire genre with the theme of the Orpheus myth.

The second is the 250th anniversary in 2006 of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart's mastery of both operatic genres and the Singspiel, a form that anticipates American musicals by about 160 years, has yet to be matched.

Finally, this is the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Arts Festival. The John Duffy Composer's Institute, a feature of the Festival since 2005, closes this year on May 28 with a concert of opera arias and selections of musical theater. We have emphasized many of them in our exhibit.

This exhibit is made possible by funding from the F. Ludwig Diehn Music Fund of the Norfolk Foundation.

Researched and Presented by Dr. Jay E. Moore,
Music Archivist for Old Dominion University Libraries
Diehn Composers Room

Copyright © 2006 Old Dominion University Libraries
Diehn Composers Room

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