Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea (1642) marks one of the very foundations of opera. Revolving around real historical characters, the Roman emperor Nero, his love for Poppea, the betrayal of the empress Octavia, an... more »d death of the philosopher Seneca, Monteverdi pits human love, ambition, and intrigue against the fates. The set, a symbolic part-globe, and the costumes, drawn from various ages, suggest--very much in the way of the surreal 1999 film of Shakespeare's Titus--that the concerns of ancient Rome are timeless. With the emphasis on the text (the music alone does not hold the attention for 150 minutes), conductor RenÚ Jacobs depends upon an excellent cast to bring the production alive. Patricia Schumann dominates the stage, her Poppea warm, sensual, and likeable, without being entirely trustworthy, an effective counterpart to Richard Croft's Nero. Darla Brooks brings just the right degree of vivacious gullibility to Drusilla, while Curtis Ryam offers eccentric comedy as Arnalta. As Ottone, Jeffrey Gall is a man acutely tormented by love. While this was recorded at the 1993 Schwetzinger Festspiele, there is no sign of an audience, the many close-ups suggesting this performance was specially given for video. The DVD includes subtitle options for English, French, and German, but no special features. The booklet is well documented but does not contain the libretto. The sound is good PCM stereo while the 4:3 image (not 16:9 as stated on the packaging) is better than VHS but otherwise unremarkable. --Gary S. Dalki« less
"This DVD is made from a videotape of a live performance. The musical performance is excellent as one would expect from Rene Jacobs. Other aspects are not so great. First of all, the prologue has been dropped, and the goddesses Virtue and Fortune never appear. Secondly, the set is spare and uninteresting, and the action is set in a modern police state with the guards in riot gear. Finally, the sound recording makes the singers sound weak and distant; only the two-channel audio is available. The performance has a small advantage in that the singers look appropriate for their roles especially Richard Croft as Nerone.Rene Jacobs reconstruction of the music is considerably different than Nikolas Harnoncourt's with which I'm most familiar, but that's not my objection to this DVD. The Harnoncourt-Ponnelle collaboration from the mid-Seventies is far superior in concept, staging, and acting. Even the recording is superior since it's a film rather than a live performance. Also, I prefer having Amor played by a boy soprano as in the H-P tape.Unitel has been sitting on the H-P collaborations on Monteverdi's three extant operas. I wish they would get off their collective duffs, and reissue them on DVD."
Renaissance Sensuality !
mackiemesser | Morehead, KY United States | 10/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This version L'Incoronazione is abbreviated and omits the tedious prologue, and some scenes that are not relevant to the main plot have been left out. This leaves a plot with good coherence. The music is mainly done with strings and "original" instruments and seems much in the style of the times. The staging is rather minimalist which seems a plus since it focuses attention on the excellent instrumental and vocal performances. The sound is good though not superb. The leads, Poppea (Patricia Schuman) and Nerone (Richard Croft), both sing superbly with excellent intonation and execution of the sometimes ornate vocal lines. The less important Ottone (Jeffrey Galt) and Octavia (Katherine Kuhlman) are also excellent though their character's and roles are less sympathetic. Some of the other characters are not so well sung but their performances are adequate. What is really outstanding is Poppea and her ability to communicate sensuality and yet ambition. I have no hesitation in remommending this as likely the best production of this opera you are likely to see."
G P Padillo | 01/23/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"1. This is not the complete opera. The director has omitted the Prologue, which is need to introduce the opera in the context of Monteverdi's era.2. Characters dress in 20th century costume (so, a modernized performance).3. The performance practices are not historically accurate.But, if you are interested in a modern interpretation of one of the more significant early operas, you may enjoy this DVD."
Unusual and Sensual Performance
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 01/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Once past the quibbles, (omission of the prologue, modern dress) one has to take this performance seriously. Rene Jacobs leads a musically informed performance that is as dramatic as it is "correct."
Richard Croft, as usual, throws out some dazzling pyrotechnics with his versatile coloratura singing. While many prefer a mezzo or countertenor in this role, Croft makes a strong case for a tenor. That he's a particularly good-looking Nero only adds to the believability factor.
A basically unit set which expands and contracts around itself provides a great acting space adaptable to all of the many scenes. The intriguing costuming, is both futuristic and ancient looking at once contributing to a timeless effect. Patricia Schuman is a marvelously sexy Poppea. Her singing seems to be more comfortable in the soprano range, while she is capable of the lower notes, they don't have quite the lovely quality of her mid and upper. But again, she looks and acts delicious and feels this music passionately. Katherine Kuhlman's Ottavia is grim, but ultimately moving, yet she makes this character a little harsher than I've seen portrayed before.
Harry Peter's Seneca is beautifully sung, and with great dignity. Even in his suicide, which requires him to wear little more than a diaper, he retains a majestic and noble bearing. His suicide and the ensuing scene are among the most beautiful in this production. As Seneca dies, images of his life are projected above him which he watches along with us. The screen is replaced by a giant stage filling disc with stunning zodiac symbols on it as Nero & Lucan sing over his corpse. There is a homoerotic element that may disturb some, but the duet is simultaneously funny & moving culminating with Nero slipping his arms into some invisible straps, then swinging from the great disc back and forth over Seneca's corpse, as though he were a beautiful giant, singing bird. The countertenors are all terrific, particularly Poppea's nurse, It's sung in drag, and this guy, an enormous, black fullback sized man, (indeed he looks like a linebacker) with a voice that is phenomenal in its range and power, more thickly mezzo sounding than I've ever heard in any countertenor. He is forced, however, to wear a costume at the end that looks like a nightmare mix of Dolly Levi & The Merry Widow, (with a hat that Dolly would kill for), taking camp about as far as possible. Again, Richard Croft's Nero is the highlight of this beautifully produced DVD. "
What's with the sound mix?
Mr. E. Mann | at my desk, duh | 10/05/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I'm puzzled by the other reviewers' positive comments. First, the sound was clearly recorded in studio and synched to the live performance, sometimes quite poorly. The mix is terrible, which is bizarre given the above. The acocmpaniment, especially the harpsichord, is very clear, but the singers are muddy and hard to hear. It's generally considered pretty important in opera to be able to hear the singing.
Costuming is mix and match-most of the characters wear clothes in quasi-Roman tailoring, but made of silkish polyester. You'll know why when you see the title singer's admirable endowments through her translucent top. However, the one major "good guy," Otho, wears Nazi black leather; I'm really not sure what they had in mind here.
Set is an opera house one that probably looks great live, but as usual appears cheesy on screen. If they were not going to record a live performance, I'm not sure why they used it.