Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: L’Incoronazione di Poppea
WORKS: L’Incoronazione di Poppea
PERFORMER: Cynthia Haymon, Brigitte Balleys, Michael Chance, Harry van de Kamp, Claron McFadden, Heidi Grant Murphy, Ning Liang, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Dominique Visse; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset; dir. Pierre Audi (Amsterdam, 1994)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0924 D
There are at least four versions of Monteverdi’s celebrated opera now available on DVD. The two earlier ones – René Jacobs on Arthaus and Raymond Leppard on Warner (reviewed July 2004) – have major cuts, and both have Nero sung by a tenor. This makes for an extremely sensual and convincing Nero/Poppea in the Jacobs version, though with poor staging, and a rather staid but realistic pair in Leppard’s who are supported by wonderful staging and direction from Peter Hall.

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The Aix-en-Provence production

on Bel Air (reviewed June 2005)

has fewer cuts and a largely

female cast but fails to work as a

set of relationships.

This latest version is virtually complete and, in musical terms, it has the most consistent cast yet – mezzo-soprano Brigitte Balleys as Nero is credibly masculine without being theatrically butch, Ning Liang is darkly dignified as Ottavia, countertenor Michael Chance (Ottone) and bass Harry van der Kamp (Seneca) are rock steady in their roles. Soprano Cynthia Haymon as Poppea has presence but is technically insecure in the faster runs, and mezzo

Heidi Grant Murphy is a slightly fragile Drusilla.

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The stage setting and direction by Pierre Audi is rather gloomy and minimalist, and so focused on internal feelings that there is almost no theatrical transition between scenes – Ottavia is suddenly into her great lament (Act I, Scene 5) only a split second after Arnalta has been indulging in some slapstick with Poppea. Even so, this is now the first choice on DVD for this opera (with Leppard’s a close second). Anthony Pryer