LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
WORKS: L’Incoronazione di Poppea
PERFORMER: Mireille Delunsch, Anne Sofie von Otter, Sylvie Brunet, Charlotte Hellekant, Denis Dedov, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt; Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski; dir. Klaus Michael Grüber (Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, 2000)
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 004
It is true that no definitive version of this opera exists in Monteverdi’s hand, and that (as we are told) its ‘marathon length’ invites ‘a few cuts’, but these commonplace observations hardly prepare us for the oddness of this event.
First, this performance of L’incoronazione is the only one I know that actually omits the coronation scene; second, the Captain who comes to tell Seneca that he must die plays the role for laughs on the level of pantomime; third, in this most sensual of operas, most of the characters are dressed in very similar ‘sober and asexual’ costumes – this means that when Ottone declares that he will disguise himself as Drusilla he is already wearing clothes indistinguishable from hers.
I could go on. As for the singing, the principal characters are all played by women. Anne Sofie von Otter acts and sings well, but is more feminine as Nero than Mireille Delunsch is as Poppea, and their final duet is choreographed as an oddly detached, criss-crossing march around the stage. Charlotte Hellekant makes a vocally strained Ottone, and the young Denis Sedov as Seneca lacks gravitas.
Sylvie Brunet as Ottavia does have dramatic presence, and there are good performances among the secondary characters – for instance Arnalta (Jean-Paul Fouchécourt) in the lullaby scene (helped by a supportive orchestra) and especially Drusilla (Nicole Heaston) at the opening of Act III. If you fancy something more mainstream (or do I mean moving and interesting?) then go for Peter Hall’s 1984 Glyndebourne production on Warner (reviewed July 2004). Anthony Pryer