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L' Orfeo Libretto
English Translation

LA MUSICA (Soprano)
ORFEO (Tenor or Baritone)
EURYDICE (Soprano)
MESSENGER (Mezzosoprano)
HOPE (Mezzosoprano)
PLUTO (Bass)
APOLLO (Tenor or Baritone)
A NYMPH (Soprano)
ECHO (Soprano)

Nymphs and Shepards, infernal Spirits




From my beloved Permessus I come to you,
illustrious heroes, noble scions of kings,
whose glorious deeds Fame relates,
though falling short of the truth, since the target is too high.

I am Music, who in sweet accents
can calm each troubled heart,
and now with noble anger, now with love,
can kindle the most frigid minds.

Singing to a golden lyre, I am wont
sometimes to charm mortal ears;
and in this way inspire souls with a longing
for the sonorous harmony of heaven's lyre.

Hence desire spurs me to tell you of Orpheus,
the immortal glory of Pindus and Helicon,
Orpheus who drew wild beasts to him by his singing,
and who subjugated Hades by his entreaties.

Now while I alternate my songs, now happy, now sad,
let no small bird stir among these trees,
no noisy wave be heard on these river?banks,
and let each little breeze halt in its course.

On this happy and auspicious day
which has put an end to the amorous torments
of our demi?god, let us sing, shepherds,
in such sweet accents
that our strains shall be worthy of Orpheus.
Today fair Eurydice's heart,
formerly so disdainful,
has been touched with compassion;
today Orpheus has been made happy
in the bosom of her for whom he once
sighed and wept so much amongst these woods.

Therefore, on so happy and auspicious a day
which has put an end etc.

Come, Hymen, ah come,
and let your fiery torch
be like a rising sun
to bring these lovers peaceful days
and henceforth banish afar
the horrors and shadows of anguish and grief.

Ye Muses, the honour of Parnassus, beloved by heaven,
tender consolation to the dejected heart,
let your harmonious lyres
rend the dark veil from every cloud;
and while we today,
on well?tuned strings,
invoke Hymen's favour on our Orpheus,
let your singing accord with our playing.


Leave the mountains,
leave the fountains,
charming, happy nymphs,
and in these meadows
rejoice your fair feet
with your accustomed dances.

Here let the sun behold
your roundelays,
lovelier far than those
which the stars in heaven
dance to the moon
in the darkness of night.


Leave the mountains, etc.

Then let these lovers' locks
be honoured by you
with fair flowers,
that now they may rejoice,
happy at the ending of torments,
satisfied in their desires.


But you, gentle singer, if once you made
these fields weep at your laments,
why now do you not make the vales and hills
rejoice with you to the sound of your famous lyre?
Let some happy song that Love may inspire
bear witness to your heart.

Rose of heaven, light of the world, and worthy
offspring of him who holds the universe in thrall,
O Sun, who dost encircle and see all
from thy celestial orbits,
tell me, hast thou ever seen
a lover more joyful and fortunate than I?
Happy indeed was the day,
my dearest, when first I saw you,
and happier still the hour
when I sighed for you,
since you too sighed at my sighing;
happiest of all the moment
when you gave me your white hand
as a pledge of pure faith.
Had I as many hearts
as eternal heaven has eyes,
Or these pleasant hills and verdant May have leaves,
all would be full to overflowing
with that joy which today delights me.

I will not say how great
is my joy at your rejoicing, Orpheus,
since my heart is no longer with me,
but resides with you in the company of Love.
Ask of it, therefore, if you wish to know
how gladly it rejoices and how much it loves you.


Leave the mountains,
leave the fountains,
charming, happy nymphs,
and in these meadows
rejoice your fair feet
with your accustomed dances.

Here let the sun behold
your roundelays,
lovelier far than those
which the stars in heaven
dance to the moon
in the darkness of night.

Come, Hymen, ah come,
and let your fiery torch
be like a rising sun
to bring these lovers peaceful days
and henceforth banish afar
the horrors and shadows of anguish and grief.

But if our joy derives from heaven,
as everything we encounter down here is from heaven,
it is surely meet that we should devoutly
offer up incense and prayers:
therefore let each turn his steps to the temple,
to pray to him who holds the world in his right hand,
that he may long preserve our well?being.


Let there be no one who, in despair, gives himself up in prey
to grief, though at times it may powerfully
assail us and darken our lives.


For after a malign cloud, its womb heavy
with a fearful storm, has affrighted the world,
the sun displays more brightly his radiant beams.


And after the sharp frost of naked winter,
Spring decks the fields with flowers.

Here is Orpheus, for whom but recently
sighs were food and tears drink:
today he is so happy
that he has nothing more to long for.


See now, I return to you,
dear woods and beloved hills,
made blessed by that sun
through whom alone my darkness is lightened.


Look, Orpheus, how the shade
of those beech trees invites us,
now that Phoebus darts
burning rays from heaven.


On these grassy banks
let us rest, and let each
in his own way let loose his voice
to the murmur of the waters.


In this flowery meadow
every sylvan deity
is often wont
to linger for his pleasure.


Here Pan, the shepherds' god,
has sometimes been heard lamenting,
sweetly recalling
his unrequited loves.


Here the charming dryads,
a company always decked with flowers,
have been seen gathering roses
with white fingers.


Therefore, Orpheus, make worthy
of the sound of your lyre
these fields, where there blows
a breeze with the perfumes of Araby.


Do you recall, O shady woods,
my long, bitter torments,
when the rocks, their hearts softened,
replied to my laments?

Say, did I not then seem to you
more wretched than any other?
Now Fortune has changed her tune
and turned my woes into rejoicing.

Once I lived in sadness and sorrow;
now I rejoice, and those anxieties
that I have suffered for so many years
make my present happy state more dear.

Through you alone, lovely Eurydice,
I bless my torments;
after sorrow, one is all the more content,
after woe, one is all the happier.

See, O see, Orpheus, how all around
the woods and the meadow smile.
Then continue, with your golden plectrum,
to sweeten the air on so blessed a day.

Ah, bitter blow! Ah, wicked, cruel Fate!
Ah, baleful stars! Ah, avaricious heaven!

What mournful sound disturbs this happy day?

Alas! Must I then,
while Orpheus delights heaven with his music,
pierce his heart with my words?

This is the gentle Sylvia,
fair Eurydice's sweetest companion
Oh, what sadness is in her face!
What has happened now? Ah, ye gods above,
do not avert your kindly gaze from us!

Shepherd ' cease your singing,
for all our gaiety has turned to pain.

Whence do you come and whither are you going?
Nymph, what news do you bring?

I come to you, Orpheus,
as an ill?fated bearer of tidings
still more ill?fated and more tragic.
Your lovely Eurydice ...

Alasl what do I hear?

Your beloved bride is dead.

Woe is me!

In a flowery meadow,
with her other companions,
she was wandering, gathering flowers
to make of them a garland for her tresses,
when a treacherous snake
that was lurking in the grass
bit her in the foot with its venomous fangs.
And lo, immediately her fair face
lost its colour, and in her eyes that lustre
with which she put the sun to shame grew dim.
Then we all, horrified and dismayed,
were around her, seeking to revive
her ebbing spirits
with cold water and powerful spells;
but alas! all was in vain,
for opening her drooping eyes a little
and calling for you, Orpheus,
after a deep sigh
she expired in my arms; and I was left
with my heart full of pity and fear.

Ah, bitter blow! Ah, wicked, cruel Fate!
Ah, baleful stars! Ah, avaricious heaven!

At the bitter news
the unhappy man seems dumb as a stone,
for through excess of grief he cannot grieve.

Ah, he who did not feel pity for your adversity,
wretched lover, bereft of all your happiness,
would surely have the heart of a tiger or bear.

You are dead, my life, and I still breathe?
You have gone from me,
never more to return, and I remain?
No, for if my songs have any power at all
I will surely descend to the deepest abyss and,
having softened the heart of the King of Shadows,
will bring you back with me to see the stars again.
Oh, if malign destiny denies me this,
I will remain with you in the company of death.
Farewell, earth! Farewell, sky, and sun, farewell!

Ah, bitter blow! Ah, wicked, cruel Fate!
Ah, baleful stars! Ah, avaricious heaven!
Let not mortal man trust
in fleeting and frail happiness,
for soon it flies away, and often
the precipice is close to the highest summit.

But I, who in my tongue
have borne the knife
that has slain Orpheus's loving heart,
abhorrent to the shepherds and the nymphs,
abhorrent to myself, where shall I hide me?
An ill?omened creature of the night, I will forever
shun the sun, and in a lonely cavern
lead a life in keeping with my sorrow.


Alas, who can console us?
Or rather, who will grant us
a living fountain in our eyes
that we may weep as we should
on this mournful day,
now all the sadder for having been more joyful?
Today a cruel blast has extinguished
the two brightest lights
of our woods,
Eurydice and Orpheus,
one stung by a serpent,
the other, alas, pierced by grief.

Ah, bitter blow! Ah, wicked, cruel Fate!
Ah, baleful stars! Ah, avaricious heaven!

But where, ah where now are
the lovely, cold limbs
of the luckless nymph
in which that sweet soul chose
her worthy dwelling, that today
has departed in the flower of her youth?
Let us reverently, shepherds,
go to find them
and with bitter tears
let due tribute,
at least, be paid by us to her lifeless body.

Ah, bitter blow! Ah, wicked, cruel Fate!
Ah, baleful stars! Ah, avaricious heaven!



Guided by thee, O goddess
of Hope, thou only solace
of afflicted mortals, I have at last
reached these gloomy and sombre realms
where no ray of sunshine ever penetrated.
Thou, my companion and guide,
hast led my feeble and faltering steps
along such strange and unknown paths
where I still hope today
to see once more those blessed orbs
which alone bring daylight to my eyes.

Here is the horrible quagmire, here the boatman
who ferries naked spirits to the far shore,
where Pluto has his vast realm of shadows.
Beyond that inky pool, beyond that river,
in those wastes of weeping and grief,
cruel destiny conceals the one who was everything to you.
Now you have need of a stout heart and an entrancing song.
Thus far I have led you, but further I may not
come with you, for a harsh law forbids it,
a law inscribed in iron on hard stone
at the hideous threshold of the lowest kingdom,
which in these words declares its ruthless intent:
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter."
Therefore, if you are still determined in your heart
to set foot in the city of sorrow,
I must hasten away and return
to my usual abode.

Where, ah where art thou going,
my heart's sole sweet comfort,
since now the goal of my long journey
is in sight not far away?
Why dost thou turn and abandon me, alas,
at this perilous stage?
What well?wisher now will help me on
if thou dost desert me, sweetest Hope?

O you who rashly approach these shores
before death, stay your steps;
it is not given to mortal man to plough these waves,
nor can the living have shelter with the dead.
What? Perhaps, as an enemy of my lord,
you wish to drag Cerberus from the gates of Tartarus?
Or, your heart inflamed with lewd desire,
you long to abduct his dear consort?
Curb your foolish presumption, for never more
shall living body enter my boat,
for I still retain in my soul bitter memories
of former outrages, and just anger.


Mighty spirit and fearsome deity,
without whom no soul separated from its body
can presume to gain passage to the other shore,

I am not living: no, for since my dear wife
is deprived of life, my heart no longer remains with me,
and without a heart, how can it be that I am alive?

To her I have made my way through the turbid air,
yet not to Hades, for wherever
such beauty is found has paradise in it.

I am Orpheus, who follow Eurydice's steps
through these murky deserts
where no mortal man has ever trod.

O serene light of my eyes,
if one glance from you can restore me to life,
ah, who would deny me solace in my anguish?

You alone, noble god, can give me aid,
nor need fear, since I arm my fingers only
with sweet strings on a golden lyre,
against which the most obdurate spirit steels itself in vain.

Your lament and your song,
inconsolable singer, indeed
somewhat seduce me
and delight my heart.
But far, ah far from my breast must pity lie,
a sentiment unworthy of my valour.

Ah, hapless lover that I am,
may I not then hope
that the citizens of Avernus will hear my pleas?
Wherefore, like an unhappy errant shade
of an unburied corpse,
I am to be deprived of both heaven and hell?
Thus does pitiless destiny will
that in this horror of death,
far from you, my beloved,
I should call your name in vain
and wear myself out in imploring and weeping.
O give me back my love, ye gods of Tartarus!


He is asleep, and even if my lyre
cannot arouse pity
in that stony heart, at least his eyes
cannot avoid slumber at my singing.
Up then! Why do I tarry longer?
It is high time to land on the other shore
if there is no one to prevent it;
let courage prevail if my prayers are to be in vain.
Opportunity is a fleeting flower of time
that must be plucked at the right moment.
He enters the boat and crosses over, singing to the sound of an organ.
Whilst my eyes pour forth streams of bitter tears,
give me back my love, ye gods of Tartarus!


No enterprise by man is undertaken in vain,
nor can Nature further defend herself against him.
He has ploughed the waving fields
of the uneven plain and scattered the seed
of his labour, whence he has reaped golden harvests.
Wherefore, so that the memory
of his glory shall live,
Fame has loosened her tongue to speak of him
who tamed the sea with fragile barque
and mocked the fury of the winds of the north and south.


My lord, this unhappy man
who wanders through these vast fields
of death, crying "Eurydice!",
and whom you too have just heard
making such sweet lament,
has aroused such pity in my heart
that once again I return to beseech
your godhead to accede to his entreaties.
Oh, if ever you have drawn
the sweetness of love from these eyes,
if the smoothness of this brow has pleased you
that you call your heaven, and on which
you swear not to envy Jove his lot,
I implore you, by that fire
with which Love set your great soul aflame,
permit Eurydice to return
to enjoy those days
that she used to spend in festivity and song,
and console the grief of the wretched Orpheus.

Although stern and unyielding Fate
may oppose your wishes, dear wife,
yet nothing now may be denied
to such beauty, combined with such pleading.
Despite the fatal decree, Orpheus may recover
his beloved Eurydice.
But before his feet are clear of these abysses
he may not once turn his eager eyes towards her,
for a single glance will inevitably
bring about her eternal loss.
Thus I ordain it. Now, my servants,
make known my will within my kingdom
so that Orpheus understands it
and Eurydice understands it,
and no one hope to change it.

O mighty king of the dwellers in eternal shadows,
your command shall be our law,
for our thoughts may not seek
other hidden reasons for your will.

Will Orpheus lead his wife
from these dreaded caverns? Will he apply his mind
and not let it be overcome by youthful ardour
nor forget his solemn orders?

What thanks can I render you,
my kind lord, now that you have granted
my entreaties so noble a gift?
Blessed be the day when first I pleased you
blessed the abduction and the sweet deception,
since, to my good fortune,
while losing the sun I gained you.

Your sweet words revive in my heart
the ancient wound of love.
Let not your soul become so desirous
of heavenly delight
that it forsake the marriage bed.

Compassion and Love
triumph today in Hades.

Behold the noble singer
who leads his wife up to the skies above.

What honour will be worthy of you,
my all?powerful lyre,
since you have succeeded in softening
every stubborn heart in the realm of Tartarus?

You shall have a place
amid the loveliest images of the heavens,
where the stars shall dance in circles,
now slowly, now quickly, to your sound.

Completely happy through you,
I shall see the beloved face
and be gathered today
to my lady's snow?white breast.

But while I sing, ah me! who can assure me
that she is following me? Alas,
who hides the sweet light of her beloved eyes from me?
Perhaps the gods of Avernus,
impelled by envy, so that I
should not be fully happy down here,
prevent me from looking at you,
blessed and radiant eyes,
which can bless others with a mere look?
But what do you fear, my heart?
What Pluto forbids, Love commands.
I must obey
a more powerful divinity
who conquers both men and gods.

There is a noise behind the scenes.

But what do I hear? Woe is me!
Perhaps the enamoured Furies
are taking up arms with such frenzy against me
to snatch my treasure from me? And I allow it?

Orpheus turns round.

O sweetest eyes, now I see you,
now I ... but alas! what eclipse obscures you?

You have broken the law and are unworthy of mercy.

Ah, sight too sweet and too bitter!
Thus, then, through excess of love you lose me?
And I, unhappy one, lose
the power any longer to enjoy
either light or life, and lose you too,
O my husband, more precious than all else.

Return to the shadows of death,
unhappy Eurydice,
and hope no more to see the stars again,
for henceforth Hades is deaf to your prayers.

Where are you going, my life? See I follow you!
But who prevents me, alas? Am I dreaming or delirious?
What occult power among these horrors
drags me against my will
from these horrors I love and leads me
to the hateful light?


Virtue is a ray
of celestial beauty,
prize of the soul, where alone it is valued.
It does not fear the ravages of time;
on the contrary, with man
the years increase its splendour.
Orpheus conquered Hades and then
was conquered by his emotions.
Worthy of eternal glory is only he
who has victory over himself.



These are the plains of Thrace, and this the place
where grief pierced my heart
at the bitter tidings.
Since I no longer have any hope
of regaining my lost treasure
by pleading,
weeping and sighing,
what else can I do but turn to you,
sweet woods, once the comfort
of my anguish, when it pleased heaven
to make you pine with me
in pity at my pining?
You grieved, O mountains, and you mourned,
ye rocks, at the departure of our sun.
And I will mourn with you evermore,
and give myself up forever to my pain and grief.

.. aye, grief!

Kind, loving Echo,
thou who art disconsolate
and dost seek to console me in my sorrow,
although these eyes of mine have already,
through weeping, become two fountains,
in such grievous and cruel misery
I still have not tears enough.

... enough!

Had I the eyes of Argus
and all were to pour forth a sea of tears,
their sorrow would not suffice for such woe.

... Oh!

If thou hast pity for my misery, I thank thee
for thy kindness.
But while I lament,
ah, why dost thou answer me
only with my last syllables?
Return my laments to me in full.

But you, my dearest soul, if ever your cold shade
should return to these friendly slopes,
accept from me this final homage,
for now I dedicate to you my lyre and my song,
as, on the altar of the heart,
I already offered you my ardent spirit in sacrifice.

You were beautiful and wise, and to you
bounteous heaven confided all its graces,
while to all other women it was sparing of its gifts.
Every praise in every tongue for you is meet,
for in your lovely body you harboured a soul still lovelier,
as modest as worthy of honour.

Now other women are haughty and faithless,
callous and fickle to those who adore them,
devoid of judgement and all nobility of thought,
so that their conduct is, rightly, not praised.
Therefore may it never happen that Love
should pierce my heart with his golden arrow for a worthless woman.


Apollo descends in a cloud, singing.

Why thus do you give yourself over as prey
to anger and grief, my son?
A generous heart does not advise
? no, it does not?
being a slave to its own passions.
Since I see you overcome
by reproach and danger,
I am come from heaven to give you aid.
Listen to me now, and you shall have praise and life.

Kindly father, you arrive at my time of direst need,
for already anger and love had brought me,
in utmost grief,
to a desperate end.
Here I am, then, attentive to your arguments,
heavenly father: now impose on me your will.

Far too greatly did you delight
in your happy fortune,
now too greatly do you bewail
your hard and bitter lot.
Do you still not know how,
on earth, nothing that delights is lasting?
Therefore, if you wish to enjoy immortal life,
come with me to heaven, which invites you.

Shall I never more see
the sweet eyes of my beloved Eurydice?

You can cherish her fair features
in the sun and stars.

Of such a father I should
indeed be an unworthy son
if I did not follow your true counsel.

rising to Heaven

We rise singing to Heaven,
where truly virtue findeth
worthy and meet reward in peace and gladness.

Orpheus' cup of joy is filled,
he is ris'n to realms supernal,
there are pain and sorrow stilled,
there is peace and bliss eternal.
Joyous hearts and altars smoking
offer we, thy grace invoking.

Thus to all of us is given
who obey the Lord Eternal,
he shall taste the joys of Heaven,
who on earth has brav'd th'infernal.
He who sows his seed in sorrow
fruits of grace hall reap tomorrow.