Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera

Learn about the first opera ever written

Join Harvard University faculty in this online course to explore an important example of early opera that helped to establish traditions, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.

Featuring faculty from:
3 weeks
3-5 hours a week
Certificate Price
Program Dates
Start Monteverdi's L'Orfeo today.

What You'll Learn

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo premiered in Mantua in 1607 and continues to be regarded as one of the most important examples of early opera. With L’Orfeo, Monteverdi helped to establish the techniques and traditions that continue to inform the genre of opera to this day.

Harvard’s Thomas Forrest Kelly (Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music) guides learners through the first half of L’Orfeo, highlighting aspects of operatic form and dramatic technique, the rehearsals and cultural context for the premiere performance, and the work’s continued relevance today. There will also be a focus on Monteverdi’s life and work as a Renaissance court musician.

In this music course, you will learn the basics of operatic form and analysis, the genres and styles used, and the circumstances of this opera’s first performance and subsequent history. Learners in this course need not have any prior musical experience.

The course will be delivered via edX and connect learners around the world. By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the technical and formal aspects of 17th century opera
  • Understand the instruments of Monteverdi’s orchestra, as well as the voice types of the singers
  • Appreciate cultural context and performance circumstances of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

Your Instructor

Thomas is the Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard University. He received his B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill, and his Ph.D. from Harvard. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary citizen of the city of Benvento, and a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Artes et Lettres of the French Republic.

Ways to take this course

When you enroll in this course, you will have the option of pursuing a Verified Certificate or Auditing the Course.

A Verified Certificate costs $149 and provides unlimited access to full course materials, activities, tests, and forums. At the end of the course, learners who earn a passing grade can receive a certificate. 

Alternatively, learners can Audit the course for free and have access to select course material, activities, tests, and forums. Please note that this track does not offer a certificate for learners who earn a passing grade.

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