L’incoronazione di Poppea

I’m being very spotty writing about the European HD performances.  When I write in timely fashion about a Met HD Live Performance, some of you have told me that I have actually influenced your decision as to whether or not to go to the Encore presentation a week and a half later.  But with the European productions (a) many of you don’t have reasonable access to a theater and (b) each theater has its own schedule which may or may not include any particular opera at any particular time.  No matter how timely my report may be, more than half of you (statistically speaking) will not have a chance to see that production in the future.  The result is that I feel less pressure to be timely, but if I don’t do it timely, I’ve probably seen another opera (or more) in between and I no longer have my vivid first impressions.

End of excuses.  Take me as I am.

I have a dim recollection of having seen one or two Monteverdi operas decades ago on Public TV – back in the early days of opera telecasts when they showed tapes of live performances, usually with inadequate lighting.  I’ve no idea if Poppea was one of them, so for all practical purposes, I had never seen it before last night.  Also, I’ve decided to continue the idea of seeing a new opera  “cold” without reading a synopsis or anyone’s opinion first.  So I had no idea what to expect from this Glyndebourne Festival performance as the opening curtain went up.

Hmm.  Even that conventional phrase doesn’t fit.  As the overture appeared to be reaching its finale, the camera moved from the orchestra to the audience and showed a lady in a shimmering evening gown working her way into the third row with no concern for the patrons she was disturbing.  Finding the center seat occupied, she started to sing Italian words translated as “You are in my seat”.  A small woman wearing a nun’s habit stood up and sang, “No, I have a ticket for this seat.”  An argument ensued, sung in recitatif.  The argument  continued and grew as they worked their ways out of the row and up on to the stage apron.  It turned out that the nun was really a “god” called Virtue, and the gowned lady was a god called Fortune, and they weren’t just arguing about the seat but about which of them was going to direct the forthcoming opera.  At this point a third woman (presumably a castrato in the original) clad in red tights and carrying a gigantic arrow slipped on stage and announced that “he” was Amor, the god of Love and that they should both get out of the way because Love was going to direct and neither Virtue nor Fortune stood a chance.  THEN the curtain went up.

It went up on quite a performance.  Poppea has more story than most of the operas I  have been to.  And although the story has a strong basis in history, it has a universality to it.  It occurred to me as I watched that Nero and his court epitomized the worst of Clinton and GW Bush.  Early on Seneca (the nearest thing to a “good guy” in the entire cast) advises Nero that a crime committed in advancement of the Empire was justifiable (GWB) but that a crime of passion (BC) was not.  Although in general I don’t like directors who change the time setting of an opera, I thought that the modern garb of evening gowns and tuxes went unnoticed after the first few minutes, and that Poppea’s sexy lingerie displayed both her character and her body to advantage.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.  Just as with the Met HD of Dr. Atomic earlier this season, I enjoyed Poppea more than I had anticipated.  “Wait a minute,” I can hear the Go-for-Baroquers among you saying.  “You compare the music of MonteverdI with Adams rather than with other I-talians such as DonezettI and VerdI?  You  must be mad!”

No, I’m not comparing their music. I would go out of my way to *avoid*  hearing a strictly audio broadcast of Dr. Atomic, whereas Monteverdi’s music was entirely pleasant.  Although, as the Emperor (or whoever) said in Amadeus, sometimes I felt there were “too many notes”  (aside to Go-for-Baroquers – see paragraph 2 above).

No, I’m comparing their operas.  The music fits the story so perfectly that the result is a gripping musical drama.  If you get a chance, go see it.

Ciao – – Philip

PS   This Sunday I’m looking forward to going to the Glyndebourne Festival’s Giulio Cesare – the same sultry-eyed Danielle de Niese who played Poppea will have the role of Cleopatra.



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