L'Orfeo (L'Orfeo, favola in musica) - 'The Legend of Orpheus' - is regarded as the earliest operatic masterpiece. The first performance took place in the ducal palace at Mantua on 24 February 1607, with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio (c.1573-1630) and music by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), at the time of the annual carnival. It was published in Venice two years later. In style the work mixes the new vocal ‘monody’ with Renaissance dances and choruses, and is notable for its extravagant orchestration and the virtuosity required by the title role.
The Orpheus story (from Ovid’s Metamorphoses) was very popular in seventeenth century Italy, and four other operas (by Peri, Caccini, Belli and Landi) took it as their theme during Monteverdi’s lifetime alone; up through modern times, this total reaches about sixty operas.