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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor) - Nerone
Danielle de Niese (soprano) - Poppea
Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo) - Ottavia
Max Emanuel Cencic (counter-tenor Ottone
Antonio Abete (bass) - Seneca
Ana Quintans (soprano) - Drusilla
Claire Debobo (soprano) - Fortuna) - Pallade) - Venere
Katherine Watson (soprano) - Virtù/Damigella
Hanna Bayodi-Hirt (soprano) - Amore
Suzana Ograjanešek (soprano) - Valletto
José Lemos (counter-tenor) - Nutrice/un famigliare di Seneca
Robert Burt (tenor) - Arnalta
Mathias Vidal (tenor) - Lucano
Andreas Wolf (bass) - Tribuno/Liberto
Damian Whiteley (tenor) - Mercurio/Littore Tribuno/un famigliare di Seneca) -
Juan Sancho (un famigliare di Seneca/Tribuno/Console)
David Webb (un famigliare di Seneca/Tribuno/Console)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
Pier Luigi Pizzi (director, set and costume designer)
rec. live Teatro Real, Madrid, May 2010. DSD.
NTSC. 16:9. Region 0 (region free). PCM stereo/5.1 surround sound.
Subtitles in Italian (original), English, French and German.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0709519 [2 DVDs: 180:00]

Experience Classicsonline


For what reason I’m not sure, L’Incoronazione di Poppea has always taken back seat in my estimation among the three surviving operas ascribed to Monteverdi; perhaps it’s because there’s something distasteful about a work which celebrates the triumph of a gold-digger and a lovelorn megalomaniac over a dutiful wife and a stoic philosopher. I was accused by my examiners at my degree viva many years ago of taking a moralistic attitude to literature, so I guess I’m still doing that. This recording, however, has certainly challenged my belief that L’Orfeo and Il Ritorno d’Ulisse take first and second place.
 
José M Irurzun posted an appreciative review and photograph of this production on our Seen and Heard pages in 2010 - here - so it’s hardly surprising that I enjoyed the DVDs so much. Firstly, a clear decision was made to opt not for a conflation of the Naples and Venice versions, which usually happens, but for a new edition of the Venice original. That’s just one advantage, to which I would add William Christie’s sure direction, Philippe Jaroussky’s unique voice and Danielle de Niese’s vivacious appearance and singing. Not least, too, the director has been content largely to leave well alone, with none of the disfiguring gimmicks which have beset so many recent operatic productions.
 
Philippe Jaroussky not only sounds the part; he looks it, too in two important respects. Not only is Nero a megalomaniac, he’s also uxorious, caring naught for Rome in his besotted love for Poppea. The huge fur cloak which he wears at the outset perhaps helps him, but his facial expressions, aided and abetted by the make-up team are mostly responsible. His very light, soprano-like counter-tenor is a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s one that I acquired some time ago when reviewing his recital recordings and it’s his Nero that I shall remember now, rather than Elisabeth Söderström on the Harnoncourt CD set which I own (now Warner Classics 2564692611, 3 CDs.) In fact, I shall probably choose the Christie DVD as my listening choice in future, even in audio only, rather than the Harnoncourt.
 
Danielle de Niese brings this production to life; not only is she what psychologists call a YAVIS personality (young, attractive, vivacious, intelligent and successful) but she has the voice to match. She achieves the same effect in the role of Cleopatra in the Christie-directed Glyndebourne DVD recording of Handel’s Giulio Cesare (OA0950D - see review.) As there, she tends to go ‘a bit overboard at time’, as Kirk McElhearn puts it, though less than before - and it’s more appropriate to the role of Poppea. If she’s a little squally at times, that’s not something that bothers me. She’s already a pluralist in the role, having played the part under Emanuelle Haïm’s direction (Decca 0743339 - review).
 
Anna Bonitatibus is becoming something of a fixture in the Christie pantheon as the put-upon wife - as Dido in La Didone and here as Octavia. She also takes the role of the long-suffering Juno in Cavalli’s Ercole Amante, conducted by Ivor Bolton (Opus Arte OA1020D - review). Of the three principal singers she gets at least as much applause as the more glamorous protagonists - José Iruzun suggests more than de Niese on the night that he was there - and deservedly so. Her Addio Roma is particularly impressive.
 
Antonio Abete portrays a convincingly weighty Seneca both vocally and in acting terms and Max Cencic is convincing in both respects as Ottone. Indeed, there isn’t a single weak member of the cast. A bit of ham acting from José Lemos as the Nurse doesn’t come at all amiss.
 
The accompaniment is not over-large; though two harpsichords may seem extravagant - one from which William Christie directs - in the event the sound is well balanced. Christie’s guiding hand ensures that all is well, as, indeed, it does in his two DVD recordings of Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (Virgin 4906129 and Dynamic 33641 - review) and the DVD of Cavalli’s La Didone which I recently greatly enjoyed: Opus Arte DVD OA1080D - my review of this should have appeared by the time that you read this.
 
The costumes are neither period (Roman or renaissance) nor modern but neutral. They may look a bit drab, but they don’t distract your attention, and that’s a big plus for me. The same is true of the scenery - like the Australian Don Giovanni which I’ve praised in my Download News 2012/20 (Opera Australia OPOZ56024BD, blu-ray, OPOZ56023DVD), they are pretty minimalist but, again, that’s better than setting Don Giovanni in a wood or Handel’s Rinaldo in a school. Basically there are three sets - one each for the palace and Poppea’s and Seneca’s houses. If, as José Irurzun says, the action is sometimes static, that’s as much Monteverdi’s fault as anyone’s - if there’s not much for the singers to do, I’d rather the producer didn’t invent something silly for them.
 
Camerawork and sound are very good indeed - the former is not too ‘busy’ and the latter is especially effective when heard on a decent audio system. I doubt whether blu-ray would have improved much.
 
Of all the versions currently available on CD and DVD, this appears to be one of the least expensive at around £20. Not that that should be the only argument in its favour, but it is a strong secondary reason.
 
I do, however, have one serious reservation in that the documentation is almost non-existent. I’m sure from my colleague’s Seen and Heard review that the Madrid audience gleaned much more information from their programmes than is available in Virgin’s simple bi-fold leaflet.
 
Documentation - or lack thereof - apart, this is a very strong contender indeed. It dramatically changed my opinion of Poppea as an also-ran to L’Orfeo and Il Ritorno d’Ulisse.
 
Brian Wilson 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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