I am listening to La rappresentatione di Anima et di Corpo by Emilio de’ Cavalieri (1550-1602) this is arguably the oldest surviving opera, or perhaps it’s an oratorio. When I say listening, I’m actually playing one of the super-bargain DVDs we bought, so I can also watch the performers (it is a concert rather than a staged production) and the setting a fine old highly decorated church (the Basilica San Paolo Fuori Le Mura, in Rome).
The singing is preceded by a spoken prologue, which as far as I could gather (there are subtitles in English, but somewhat obscured by the bottom of my TV, and my Italian is not strong – though I can read the legalese on the backs of bus tickets ;) is a Jobian account of the misery of human life. The rhetoric seemed so exaggerated that I wondered what was going on…Such suspicion of non-literal meaning may be a biblical scholar’s déformation professionelle…
I decided it would both help my enjoyment of the oratorio and my detection of possible irony if I could get the words, ideally with English translation. I also (being a scholar) thought a quick peek at an encyclopedia article might help. Naturally I googled the work, dozens of sites selling CDs, scores selling MP3s, a few selling DVDs, a few googled-books offering comment, and a rather sparse Wikipedia article resulted. Surely the world of classical music should be better served by the web than this? The best I could get by way of background information was the above slighted Wikipedia article and a few paragraphs from a Guardian review of one of the CD issues of the music.
Incidentally there are (probably copyright-breaching) You Tube clips from the performance here:
Have I gone wrong, missed something? Where would you look for information about such works, their composers and ideally (they being long out of copyright) texts of the libretto?