Born either in Rome or Florence, Jacopo Peri (1561-1633), also known as Zazzerino, was one of the most important figures in the early development of opera. During the 1580s he became involved with a group of intellectuals meeting at the home of Count Bardi in Florence. Known as the Camerata, their discussions included ideas that would have a significant influence on the creation of opera. Primary among these was an attempt to recapture the precepts of Greek drama by employing a kind of rhetorical musical declamation in which music was subservient in importance to a clear exposition of the text. The result was the invention of recitative, the foundation stone, although not the only component, of the earliest operas. The principles of the Camerata are to be found in Dafne (1597-1598), and Euridice (1600), the two earliest operas for which a complete music score survive. Both were composed in collaboration with other composers, a practice familiar from the lavish dramatic Florentine intermedii to which Peri had contributed, and which are a precursor of opera.
For Euridice Peri worked with the singer and composer Giulio Caccini, another major figure in the early development of opera, who provided several of Euridice's songs and some choruses. Subsequently both men published their own versions with music totally of their own composition. The subject matter of Euridice was a topic frequently employed in music drama of the period -- the power of music, in this instance the story of Orpheus, the paradigmatic musician poet. It is the power of song alone that enables Orpheus to overcome death by enchanting the underworld into releasing his wife Euridice from its grip. The story, set to a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini, is one to which Monteverdi would return seven years later to create the first great opera, Orfeo.
Euridice builds on Dafne in the respect of demonstrating that a coherent dramatic story could be entirely set to music. The opera opens with a prologue that is followed by five scenes (including one set at the gates of Hell), each of which concludes with a homophonic dance chorus of the type found in the intermedii. In addition to music in recitative style (stile recitativo), there are set pieces, mostly strophic songs of the kind familiar from Orfeo. Euridice was first given at the Pitti Palace in Florence on October 6, 1600, on the occasion of the wedding celebrations of Maria de' Medici and Henry IV of France. The instrumental forces employed include a range of continuo instruments: harpsichord, chittarone, lute, and lyra, with the probable addition of a single melody instrument in the prologue and finale.