Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Il (The Return of Ulysses to His Own Country)
  • Claudio Monteverdi. Dramma per musica in a prologue and three acts. 1640.
  • Libretto by Giacomo Badoaro, after Homer’s Odyssey.
  • First performance at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, in 1640.
CHARACTERS

L’Humana Fragilità (Human Frailty)

soprano

Il Tempo (Time)

bass

La Fortuna (Fortune)

soprano

Amore (Cupid)

soprano

Penelope, wife of Ulysses

soprano

Ericlea (Eurycleia), her old nurse

mezzo-soprano

Melanto, her young maidservant

soprano

Eurimaco (Eurymachus), a courtier, Melanto’s lover

tenor

Nettuno (Neptune)

bass

Giove (Jupiter)

tenor

Ulisse (Ulysses)

tenor

Minerva

soprano

Eumete (Eumaeus), a swineherd, old servant of Ulysses

tenor

Iro (Irus), a parasite

tenor

Telemaco (Telemachus), son of Ulysses and Penelope

tenor

Antinoo (Antinous), a suitor of Penelope

bass

Pisandro (Peisander), a suitor of Penelope

tenor

Anfinomo (Amphinomus), a suitor of Penelope male

alto

Giunone (Juno)

soprano

Mercurio (Mercury), in the libretto only

 

In the prologue Time, Fortune and Cupid claim to have control of human destiny and argue against Human Frailty. Penelope laments her situation, in the long absence of her husband, and beset by suitors. In a short scene of dalliance between Melanto and Eurymachus it becomes clear that the latter hopes that Melanto will persuade Penelope to give in. Elsewhere the Phaeacians return Ulysses to his country and Neptune, with the approval of Jupiter, punishes them for disobeying him, turning them into a rock. Ulysses, waking alone on the coast, is helped by Minerva, disguised as a shepherd, who tells him that he is now in Ithaca, his homeland, and explains the situation in his house. She advises him to adopt the disguise of an old beggar and leaves in order to bring Telemachus back from Sparta. In the palace Melanto tries to persuade Penelope to accept one of the suitors, but she refuses. Eumaeus, expelled from the court by the intruders, is happy in his pastoral life, mocked by Irus. Ulysses assures him that his master is alive, but does not reveal his identity. In the second act Telemachus returns and Ulysses reveals his identity to him, while Penelope, in the palace, rejects the suitors one by one. Eumaeus tells her that Telemachus has returned and Ulysses may soon follow. The suitors determine to kill Telemachus but are deterred by an omen. Helped by Minerva, Ulysses comes to the palace, still as a beggar, and seeks leave to compete with the suitors in drawing the bow that was his and that the suitors cannot bend. He kills the suitors, but it is only in the course of the third act that Penelope is eventually convinced of his true identity, leading to a final love duet.

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria is the first complete surviving opera of Monteverdi written for Venice, to be followed by Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia (The Marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia), based on Virgil’s Aeneid, the music of which is now lost, and his last opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppaea), with its plot derived from the historian Tacitus and other sources. Penelope’s lament Di misera regina (Wretched queen) opens the first act, while the third act brings a notable climax in the killing of the suitors. The operatic genre now allows elements of comedy and these are largely provided by the parasite Irus.