Notes from the arranger
Haydn wrote his opera L’Anima del Filosofo in 1791. It is the ancient story of Orpheus and Eurydice, a theme that has inspired many composers since the Renaissance. It is one of the works in which Haydn uses the harp as an orchestral instrument.
The mythical figure of Orpheus, the greatest singer and lyre player of all time, descends to the Underworld to try to persuade the gods of that dark region to restore to him his beloved young wife who died of a fatal snake bite. His ardent wish is granted on condition that he does not turn around to look at Eurydice during their return to the world of the living. But Orpheus yields to Eurydice’s pleading, looks back and loses her for the second time. In the daylight once again he is overcome by inconsolable grief and solitude. In the original Greek version of the story, Orpheus is finally torn to pieces by the Bacchantes – bands of infuriated women, escorts of the wine god Bacchus – who revel in destructive frenzy.
In Haydn’s version of the story, Orpheus is slowly but inexorably engulfed by these “Bacchanti” who force him to drink a deadly poisonous draught, while singing about the pleasures of life. This scene – occurring at the very end of the opera – has a threatening character, enhanced by the fact that it develops during an elegant minuet.