Euridice, the earliest surviving opera, received its premiere at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence on October 6th, 1600. Euridice was performed for the wedding celebrations of Henry IV of France and Maria de’ Medici.
It was written by Jacopo Peri, a beloved composer and singer. He had already written Dafne a few years earlier, which is considered to be the first opera, but that music has been lost.
Euridice is a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the gifted musician Orpheus falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, but just after their wedding, she is bitten by a snake and dies.
Orpheus is heartbroken, and he journeys to the underworld to try to bring her back. He charms Hades, the king of the underworld, and his wife, Persephone, and they agree to return Eurydice to Orpheus on one condition: he must get all the way back to the upper world without looking back to see if Eurydice is following.
He almost makes it, but right as he is walking out into the sunlight, he turns back, and Eurydice is still in the underworld, so he loses her forever. Peri not only wrote the opera, he also sang the role of Orpheus.
Peri wrote a long preface to Euridice, in which he explained the new musical form he was working in, which we now call opera. He said that he was trying to write the way he imagined the Greeks would have, combing music and speech into the ultimate form of drama.