Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Claudio Monteverdi, L’incoronozione di Poppea
09 Aug 2009

Monteverdi: L’incoronozione di Poppea

This excellent production of Monteverdi’s final (premiered in 1643) and most problematic opera features first-rate singing and a very effective (and restrained) staging.

Claudio Monteverdi, L’incoronozione di Poppea

Poppea: Danielle de Niese; Nerone: Alice Coote; Ottone: Iestyn Davies; Arnalta: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke; Ottavia: Tamara Mumford; Seneca: Paolo Battaglia; Amore: Amy Freston. Emmanuelle Haïm conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Glyndebourne Chorus. Stage Director: Robert Carsen. Libretto by Giovanni Busenello. DVD of live performance at Glyndebourne Festival, June 2008

Decca 074 3339 [DVD]

$21.97  Click to buy

Early baroque opera is always a challenge for the producing company since the musical language, artistic conventions, and vocal tessituras are so far removed from modern day practices. L’incoronazione di Poppea, ups the ante by portraying the Emperor Nero, one of history’s most barbaric tyrants, in a somewhat positive light, which, most likely was meant to be understood by its original audience as symbolic of the northern Italian disdain for Roman corruption and decadence.

Busenello’s libretto is largely based on Seutonius’ The Twelve Caesars and begins with a debate among Fortune, Virtue, and Amore as to who is the most powerful. Director Robert Carsen stages this Prologue as though Virtue and Fortune are actually members of the Glyndebourne Festival audience and even has the action begin in the pit and in English before quickly transitioning to the stage and the Italian. This works most effectively because it reinforces the idea that the action to take place hence is an opera-within-an-opera.

The action of the opera basically follows the parameters of the Aristotelian unities. Within approximately 24 hours Nero will exile his wife Ottavia, make Poppea his new empress, condemn his disapproving tutor Seneca to death by suicide, all the while showing kingly magnanimity to Ottone (Poppea’s former lover and would-be assassin [at the behest of Ottavia]) and Drusilla, the once and future lover of Ottone. By opera’s end, Amore has thoroughly triumphed over Virtue and Fortune. This triumph, however, is short-lived, as the historical record shows that within a year after the end of the action in the opera Nero kicked to death the then-pregnant Poppea.

The staging of the opera in large part mitigates the dramatic difficulties that the work presents. Taking advantage of the limited space of the Glyndebourne stage, the sets are minimal and easily flow from one scene to the next. Since a great deal of the action takes place in the boudoir, bed sheets become gowns. Although the staging abandons authentic Roman-era verisimilitude, the visual effect is one of an otherworldly milieu, not a vulgar deconstruction of the baroque. Indeed, the creative minds behind this staging are to be commended for not succumbing to the fashionable kitsch of Regieoper. Their emendations and interpolations are few and help to enhance the musical and dramatic effects of the opera.

Particularly satisfying was the choice not to sacrifice musical integrity for visual effect. Rather than transpose the opera to accommodate modern tessituras, singers were selected for the appropriateness of their voice, rather than gender. As such, this staging employs counter-tenors (Ottone), females performing male roles (Nerone), and males performing female roles (Arnalta). This is done, however, not for the sake of gratuitous gender bending, but to allow for the experience of authentic baroque vocal ranges.

Soprano Danielle de Niese’s performance in the title role is musically, dramatically and visually spot on. As a musical actress, de Niese is believable even in love scenes with Alice Coote’s Nerone. Also impressive are counter-tenor Iestyn Davies in the role of Ottone and bass Paolo Battaglia as Seneca. Although it is a secondary and somewhat thankless role, Tamara Mumford performed admirably as Ottavia, particularly in her Act I rage aria “Disprezzata regina.”

Conductor Emmanuelle Haïm directed from the keyboard and displayed a spontaneity and musicality that is often lacking in baroque opera. Her approach is authentic performance for the sake of musicality rather than authenticity for authenticity’s sake. In her hands, the performance was alive and was fully in synch with the drama and rhetoric of the libretto, as one would expect in a performance of a work by the creator of the secunda prattica.

This DVD has several additional features that are quite good, including a brief history of the Glyndebourne Festival, interviews with the creative team, and retrospectives of the 1962 and 1984 Glyndebourne stagings of Poppea. All in all, this is an excellent DVD that will be satisfying to both devotees of Monteverdi and baroque opera as well as those who are experiencing the genre for the first time.

William E. Grim

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):