The story of the opera 'The Mask of Orpheus'
- a shortened version of "The Children's Story" from the
libretto of the 'THE MASK OF ORPHEUS',
written and illustrated by Peter Zinovieff
The god Apollo taught Orpheus about the magic of poetry and music and gave him his magical lyre with five strings. He soon became the greatest musician and poet that the world has ever known.
Orpheus fell in love with the the very beautiful Euridice and to everyone's delight they got married. In the hot summer after the wedding, the bee keeper Aristaeus saw Euridice walking along the banks of the river and immediately fell in love with her.
Euridice was happy when Aristaeus seduced her but afterwards she felt very guilty and was frightened of having deceived Orpheus. She ran from Aristaeus but stumbled in the long grass, and a water snake reared up and bit her ankle killing her quickly. Aristaeus killed the snake and tried to revive Euridice but to no avail. He went to Orpheus to tell him of Euridice's death by the snake, ommiting the details of his liason with her.
Orpheus was completely desolate without Euridice and refused to acknowledge her death even at her extravagant funeral ceremony. In his desperation he was even prepared to descend to the depths of the dead to bring her back.
Tired by the recent events, Orpheus fell into a deep sleep where he experienced a series of terrifying nightmares, dreams and awakenings; he imagined that he saw Euridice as a doll being struck down by gigantic snakes, that he had entered hades and that Euridice was presented to him but he was instructed not to look at her for fear of losing her a second time.
As he was leading Euridice through the final stages of the journey he awoke from his dream with a start and she was lost to him again. Some say that at this point, Orpheus in his despondancy hung himself.
Libretto of 'The Mask of Orpheus' © Universal Edition
Others say that he went on to use his powers of music to teach young men about the higher pleasures of the mind than of the body, and also taught against the ceremonial Dionysian religion. Some say that he was struck down by a thunderbolt,whilst others maintain that his teachings so angered the women who worshipped Dionysus that they tore him apart, limb by limb.