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Best opera ever? Johannes Debus chooses Monteverdi's Orfeo

Editorial Staff

Best Operas Ever is a new podcast from Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Radio 2. In each instalment, host Ben Heppner talks to one of the major opera figures of our time about a particular opera recording that they especially love. You'll find each episode here on, and you can tune in to CBC Radio 2 at 1 p.m. any Saturday from now until the end of November to hear these classic recordings in their entirety — along with extended conversations with our esteemed guests.

Best Operas Ever No. 10 - Johannes Debus

Listen to Ben Heppner talk to the music director of the Canadian Opera Company about one of the first operas ever written. 


The Canadian Opera Company's maestro Johannes Debus is best known for his chops in 18th and 19th-century operas. But when Ben Heppner asked him to choose his favourite opera recording of all time, he reached back further. A lot further. 

Monteverdi's Orfeo is often cited as the first opera. It isn't, but it does mark the point in history where the ingredients that had been stewing together for decades finally got to the point where the flavours blended. For Debus, going back and listening to music from this period in opera's pre-history helps to clarify the entire purpose of opera: the use of music to elevate drama. "Music can propel words in a way that reaches our heart immediately," Debus told Heppner. "Of course, we have that with every music where words meet music. When it comes to Monteverdi and composers of that time, I feel we kind of go back to the basics of this idea."

Debus chose a recording by the Monteverdi specialist Gabriel Garrido to demonstrate his point. It is vibrant and improvisational, and makes this 400-year-old music feel new. Hit the play button above to hear Heppner's full conversation with Debus about Garrido's Orfeo. Plus, you can tune in to Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on Nov. 12 to hear this recording in its entirety, plus more from this conversation.

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