Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea
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Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea (Complete) (3 CD's)
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Monteverdi's final opera really is a masterpiece, but its libretto requires close attention--this is not an opera for casual listeners. There is no ideal recording of Poppea currently available--Gardiner's version, while flawed, has many admirable qualities. Sylvia McNair is a gorgeous, sensuous Poppea; Dana Hanchard is the finest Nero on record--her soprano expresses the role's capricious willfulness without having to shout the top notes; Catherine Bott is a particularly fine Drusilla. Much of the rest of the cast sounds uncomfortable with Monteverdi and sings far too operatically--the most unfortunate performance in this respect is from the great Anne Sofie Von Otter, whose stentorian Ottavia overwhelms Monteverdi's lightly scored music. Still, this recording's many fine points make it worthwhile listening. --Matthew Westphal
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We have come a long way from the overblown Raymond Leppard production of 1961. In 1966, a carefully-chosen cast of early music specialists and a stripped-down orchestra taken from the Oakland Symphony made a classic recording for the Cambridge label; at its time it was considered a masterful recording; yet, only Charles Bressler as Nerone, Carole Bogard as Poppea and Herbert Beattie as Seneca really sang their music with feeling and drama.
It is certainly true that performing Montverdi is not like performing Verdi. You cannot exploit your chest voice or high notes in quite the same way. But, I wish to point out, Monteverdi was NOT Lully or one of the Baroque composers, whose music was expected to be sung in a clean but passionless style. Listen to Cathy Berberian's now-classic album of Monteverdi arias with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and you will understand what I mean. You have to sing all the notes and the right style, but to purposely shy away from an emotional reading of the text is sheer folly. As Gardiner pointed out so well in the notes to his recording of "L'Orfeo," Monteverdi knew that his music was emotionally moving and intended it to involve the listener.
There are only two moments where I missed the old Cambridge recording: Seneca's farewell to his students, sung with such tonal beauty and deeply-felt dignity by Beattie, and the final duet where Bogard's creamier voice just soared in the upper register. But as an overall "Poppea," this one is just SO much more involving, and Gardiner performs an even more complete edition (probably discovered after the '66 recording was made). "L'Orfeo" and "Ritorno di Ulisses" may be a little more stodgy and uneven as stage works, but "Poppea" is an unqualified, unquestioned masterpiece that will win over even those who usually resist old music.
Even after 3 centuries,the music of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)glows with the passionate genius of a musical prophet. He was far ahead of his day in his conception of music as a dramatic, expressive art, and in the realization of that conception. He spurned the dry recitativos common to the opera of the day and instead gave the singers lovely melodies to sing. Short song-like passages were also included in the orchestral score. This opera demontrates well these traits of Monteverdi. Example: the lovely melody that recurs in Drusilla's song that I call her "happy" tune because she sings it first after Ottone shows her that he desires her instead of Poppea; unfortunately not true, but for the moment she believes it. Their are several tuneful melodies that become associated with the characters. The youth and vitality that shines forth through this opera are remarkable, emanating as they do from a 74 year old churchman.
The libretto for 'Poppea' was written by the promenent Venetian poet and impresario, Gian Francesco Busenello(1598-1659). It remains his most significant achievement. The choice of a historical subject rather than a pastoral-mythological one, reflects the tastes of the new, mainly mercantile, audience for opera in the 1640's. Busenello does retain a traditional framework typical of earliest operas: for example, the Prologue establishes the intention of the work to prove Cupid(Marinella Pennicchi) superior to Fortune(Anne Sofie von Otter) and Virute(Catherine Bott). But the actions presents the characters as real (even unsavoury)human beings in realistic siturations.
In brief, the plot is as follows: Ortho(Michael Chance),desperate on seeing himself deprived of Poppea(Sylvia McNair) gives way to exclamations of despair. Octavia (Anne Sofie von Otter), Nero's wife, orders Ortho to kill Poppea. He promises to do so, but lacking the courage to take the life of his adored Poppea, he assumes the dress of Druscilla(Catherine Bott), who is in love with him. Thus disguised, he enters Poppea's garden. Cupid intervenes and prevents the murder. Nero(Dana Hanchard) repudiates Octavia, in spite of Seneca's(Francesco d'Artegna) advice, and takes Poppea as his wife. Seneca dies and Octavia and Ortho are banished from Rome. Drusilla, out of love for him, accompanies him.
This production under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner bears his stamp of excellence thruout the entire performance. The singers are outstanding both in their singing and their portrayal of their respective characters. Sylvia McNair is a gorgeous sensuous Poppea.I especially liked Michael Chance's "Ottone" the rejected suitor of Poppea ,and another countertenor Roberto Balconi was very good in his role as Nutrice (Octavia's nurse); Octavia was the Empress who is about to be set aside by Nerone in favor of Poppea.
This is another masterpiece by Gardiner! And Monteverdi's final opera is truly GREAT!
The album comes with pertinent information in English and the complete Italian text translated into English.