Monteverdi L'incoronazione di Poppea
The director brothers David and Christopher Alden have done a lot for (and to) Monteverdi. In the 1980s there was Christopher’s infamous rock-opera version of L’incoronazione di Poppea. By contrast, this Barcelona interpretation by David is almost Brechtian in the spare objectivity of its stage set, and Expressionist in its use of the shadowy, zombie-like figure of Time that shuffles across the back of the stage. The long, distorting shadows (carefully manufactured through the lighting skills of Pat Collins) in the scenes of judgment and death are reminiscent of film noir, and the giant checkered background of the final scene suggests not people, but pawns in some slowly unfolding game of celestial chess.
This direction does some odd things to some of the scenes. In the first (apparently post-coital) encounter between Nero and Poppea, for example, they are sat at opposite ends of a sofa, not touching. As Nero, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly looks reserved and uncomfortable; her vocal powers throughout are formidable, but she doesn’t suggest eroticism, repressed or otherwise. Soprano Miah Persson is a superb Poppea who can really act with her voice but whose body seems somewhat constrained by the direction. The opposite is true of Ottavia (Maite Beaumont), whose searing vocal presence is heard as histrionic rather than powerfully dignified when she is made to squirm about on a couch and lurch about the room. Other singers make slightly less impact, save for countertenor Dominique Visse, who sings the comedic roles of Arnalta and Ottavia’s nurse. The music seems to be based on the Venice (rather than the Naples) score, with very few cuts in spite of the opera’s length. The orchestral accompaniments are nicely varied, though it would be better if the characters were not made to dance on stage at every instance of triple-time music.