Not Up to the Harnoncourt Production, but Good.
Stan Seleen | Portland, OR USA | 11/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Claudio Monteverdi wrote the L'incoronazione di Poppea near the end of his life and managed to incorporate all that he had learned from many years of composing and teaching. It premiered in 1642 and includes all that makes a great opera in today's world. Nerone lusts for Poppea; Poppea lusts for power; Ottone aches for Poppea; Octavia and Nerone both use their power ruthlessly; Seneca pays with his life for telling Nerone what he doesn't wish to hear; and through all of this the ending is happy for everyone else, except for Octavia, who is exiled to wherever the winds may carry her.
My view of this opera is somewhat jaded by a wonderful production with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting at the Zurich Opera House. If this dvd of the Amsterdam Opera production had been my first experience with The Coronation of Poppea, I would have been thrilled. The parts are well sung and in some cases exceed performances in the Harnoncourt version. This is especially true of the Ottone part. Michael Chance managed to communicate the heart ache of Ottone and also the great beauty of the music he is given to sing.
The part of Seneca is sung powerfully by bass Harry van der Kamp. The role would have been even better played, in my eyes, if the singer had been made to look older. He seemed a bit young for being an old sage.
On the Amsterdam Opera production a woman sings the part of Love. Sandrine Piau sings the messenger role for Love very nicely, but I missed hearing a boy sing. Cynthia Haymon played and sang the part of Poppea beautifully. She plays it as a strong woman and seems more powerful than Nerone. Brigitte Balleys sang the Nerone part well, but I greatly missed having a countertenor sing that role. The mezzo-soprano may be closer to the castrato voice that the part was written for, but I found the two women's voices too much alike. It was hard to tell their voices apart when the camera was not zoomed in on their faces. Nerone ends up seeming to be a weak character. This is not the case when he was sung by Eric Tappy. Tappy managed to portray Nerone as the mad man that he was and yet contribute mightily to some of the loveliest love duets ever written.
In spite of not having a boy singer for Love and not having a male singer for Nerone, this version of Poppea is quite enjoyable. It is a pleasure to see the various possibilities for the staging of this great opera. Christope Rousset and Amsterdam Opera worked hard to make this an authentic production and it does achieve that. The staging is simple and voices are kept close to original parts.
This dvd sounds good and plays well on a widescreen television."
Best Poppea I've seen on DVD or VHS video
Steven Guy | Croydon, South Australia | 01/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production is superior to that of Harnoncourt. The cast is first rate - every member is superb. The small orchestra - simpler than Harnoncourt's - is much more "authentic" (strings, 2 cornetti [beautifully played, BTW!] and basso continuo) and gives the work just enough colour.
I love the dark and moody lighting. The whole production has a very dream-like quality to it, yet the raw emotions of the protagonists are brought out very strongly. Michael Chance, in particular, is very good. I saw him in a production a few years ago and was slightly less than impressed. His voice seems to be getting better as he gets older.
Most of the cast will be familiar to lovers of Baroque music - Dominique Visse, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Sandrine Piau, Claron McFadden, Harry van der Kamp are here, and they are the minor characters!
The work has a great sense of pace and the musical interpretations from Christophe Rousset and his band, Les Talens Lyriques, are excellent. In the interview with Harry van der Kamp in the "Extras", he tells us that the instrumentalists do follow the singers - this is particularly true of the continuo group. As I said before, the cornetto playing was a real highlight for me. The two players play very beautifully and stylishly.
There are other DVD recordings of L'incoronazione di Poppea available, but in my opinion, this is the best.
I highly recommend this beautiful, atmospheric, impressive and fantasy-filled production to all music lovers."
A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 03/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"MONTEVERDI AT SEVENTY FOUR YEARS OF AGE BRINGS FORTH AN OPERA FULL OF YOUTH AND VITALITY!
Almost four decades before creating his Poppea, Monteverdi wrote in the preface of his fifth book of madrigals:'The modern composer must create his works solely on the basis of truth', a credo to which the music of his final opera is utterly faithful. Poppea is a potent work from opera's first true creator and pioneering genius. Monteverdi's timeless masterpiece, which creates a deep involvment in performers and audiences alike is brilliantly performed by this excellent cast of singers and instrumentalists.
Even after three centuries, the music of Monteverdi 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 recitatives 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 demonstrates well these traits of Monteverdi. EXAMPLE: The enchanting melody that recurs in Drusilla's song that I call her 'happy' tune because she sings it first after Ottone tells her that he desires her instead of Poppea; unfortunately not true, but for the moment she believes him. There are several tuneful melodies that become associated with specific characters throughout the opera.
The very excellent cast is as follows: Cynthia Hayman as Poppea who will do absolutely anything to become Empress, moral or immoral, but she does it with a great flourish; Brigitte Balleys as Nerone, and even though I can accept Cheribino as a female in a 'pants' role, I don't like it in this setting (forgive me) for Balleys does it well; Ning Liang as Ottavia, the rejected Empress, (determined to get revenge by having Poppea killed by Ottone) is magnificent in portraying her many and varied moods: anger, hate ,revenge, despair, depression, bullying; Michael Chance as Ottone, the rejected lover of Poppea is victimized throughout the entire opera, but plays his role with fervor, high drama and truly superb singing; Harry van der Kamp with his booming bass voice is effectively pompous as Nerone's advisor; a sweet voiced Drusilla is sung 'sweetly' by Heidi Grant Murphy (she does get Ottone at the end, but strictly by default!)
Les Talens Lyriques along with musical director Christophe Rousset and stage director Pierre Audi hold all of this together to provide a thrilling musical experience for Early Music listeners.
This is a high definition LIVE RECORDING of Pierre Audi's moving and beautifully styled production from Amsterdam in 1994. It is sung in Italian and contains English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch subtitles. There is an illustrated synopsis, cast gallery and introduction on the DVD.
Machiavelli in Music?
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 10/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Few if any operas have ever combined such sublime music with such a profoundly philosophical libretto. For that reason, few operas cry out so urgently for meaningful staging and effective acting, as well as for superb musical values. This production by Les Talens Lyriques, directed by Christophe Rousset, achieves 100% musically and a quite sufficient 85% dramatically.
Poppea is a study in moral ambiguity, and every character in every scene contributes something to the unsettling of our moral expectations. Nerone is either an effective tyrant or a lewd fool. Ottavia is either a spurned faithful wife or a vengeful fury. Ottone is either a weakling love-sick puppy or a shrewd opportunist. Seneca is either the ideal Renaissance stoic or a fatuous sycophant. And Poppea? As totally she she seems to triumph in her incoronation, the audience of Monteverdi's time would have known their Roman history well enough to realize that in a few short years Nerone would repudiate her and stomp her to death with his lead-soled sandals. They'd also recall that Ottone survived Nerone to become one of the four ephemeral emperors in the Year of Four Emperors; he was no moral paragon, even by Roman standards. Nerone and Poppea are despicable humans for two and a half acts of the opera, and then sing the most sublime, heart-wrenching, convincing love duet in all of music!
The cast for this performance includes a fair share of the best baroque singers alive, even in the smaller roles, Sandrine Piau for instance singing Damigella and Dominique Visse the comic-relief role of the Nurse. There are no weak spots in this cast vocally. My only reservation is dramatic; the casting of Brigitte Balleys as Nerone seems to restrict the conviction with which the character can be portrayed. I would rather have watched a countertenor - Philippe Jaroussky or Gerard Lesne, for instance - toss off Nerone's arrogant tantrums. On the other hand, Harry van der Kamp as Seneca is brilliant casting. Seneca's death scene is, along with the concluding duet, the musical and dramatic core of the opera, and van der Kamp dies splendidly.
The instrumental ensemble is, if anything, even closer to absolute perfection than the vocal cast. Two cornettos, two recorders, three violins and two violas entwine their florid wreaths of melody around the recitativos of Giovanni Busenello's poetic libretto. Since most of the opera is in fact recitativo rather than da capo aria, the color and character of the basso continuo is supremely important, and Les Talens Lyriques doesn't scant a note. The continuo includes organ, harpsichord, lute, theorbo, harp, cello, violone, and viola da gamba, an amazing panoply of timbres.
I saw and heard the Los Angeles Opera performance of this same production, and the disappointments of that occasion make it even clearer to me how excellent the original in Amsterdam was. The opera was cut in LA; particularly the part of Seneca was stupidly truncated. The cornetto obbligatos were re-assigned to teh violins, and the continuo was not nearly as varied. All significant mistakes! This opera is too tightly constructed to be cut in any fashion. And to do it without cornettos is being criminally stingy!
Les Talens Lyriques has also produced a breathtaking performance on DVD of Monteverdi's Orfeo, which I've reviewed previously. Now there is a box set of Christophe Rousset's stagings of Monteverdi's three operas, plus the operatic madrigal Tancredi e Clorinda. Truly we live in glorious musical times!"