At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Jacopo Peri – composer and singer

Court musician produced the first work to be called an opera


The music and words from the prologue of Peri's Euridice
The music and words from the
prologue of Peri's Euridice
The singer and composer Jacopo Peri, also known as Il Zazzerino, was born on this day in 1561 in Rome.

He is often referred to as the ‘inventor of opera’ as he wrote the first work to be called an opera, Dafne, in around 1597.

He followed this with Euridice in 1600, which has survived to the present day although it is rarely performed. It is sometimes staged as an historical curiosity because it is the first opera for which the complete music still exists.

Peri was born in Rome to a noble family but went to Florence to study and then worked in churches in the city as an organist and a singer.

He started to work for the Medici court as a tenor singer and keyboard player and then later as a composer, producing incidental music for plays.

Peri’s work is regarded as bridging the gap between the Renaissance period and the Baroque period and he is remembered for his contribution to the development of dramatic vocal style in early Baroque opera.

Peri began working with Jacopo Corsi, a leading patron of music in Florence, and they decided to try to recreate Greek tragedy in musical form. They brought in a poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, to write a text and produced Dafne as a result. It was performed privately at Corsi’s home in Florence and then several more times over the next few years. This is now believed to be the first opera.

The tomb of Jacopo Peri in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence
The tomb of Jacopo Peri in the Church of Santa Maria
Novella in Florence
They then collaborated on Euridice, which was performed in 1600 at Palazzo Pitti on the occasion of Maria dè Medici’s marriage to Henry IV of France. Peri is believed to have sung the role of Orpheus himself on this occasion.

This more public staging of Peri’s work awakened wider interest in opera as a new form of music.

Peri went on to produce other operas and pieces of music for court entertainments. Few of his compositions are still performed today but it is thought he had a big influence on the composers that came later, such as Claudio Monteverdi.

Peri died in Florence in 1633 and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in the city.

Travel tip:

Palazzo Pitti, where Euridice was first performed in 1600, was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti in 1457 in the centre of Florence, to try to outshine the Medici family. They later bought it from his bankrupt heirs and made it their main residence in 1550. Today visitors can look round the richly decorated rooms and see treasures from the Medici collections.

The Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was built in the 13th century
The Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence
was built in the 13th century
Travel tip:

The Gothic Church of Santa Maria Novella, where Peri is buried, was built in the 13th century by the Dominicans. The railway station of the same name was built in the 1930s opposite the church to replace the original 19th century station. Peri’s gravestone in the nave of the church credits him with inventing opera.

More reading:


How Monteverdi developed opera as a popular genre

How Cosimo II de Medici maintained family tradition for patronage of the arts

(Pic of José Antonio Bielsa Arbiol (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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