LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: L’incoronazione di Poppea
PERFORMER: Arleen Auger, Della Jones, Linda Hirst, James Bowman; City of London Baroque Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: VCT 5 61783 2 Reissue (1990)
There’s not much cruelty, corruption or ruthlessness in Arleen Auger’s exquisitely sung portrayal of the manipulative Poppea, but this hardly detracts from her otherwise radiantly expressive performance. This welcome reissue is not just exhilaratingly played by the City of London Baroque Sinfonia with a spareness and verve that keeps the drama taut, but impressively cast. James Bowman is an elegantly spurned Ottone; Gregory Reinhart a noble Seneca; and the wonderful Della Jones a spirited, quite convincingly masculine Nero. The only snag is Linda Hirst’s unlovely, rather hectoring Ottavia; it doesn’t do, somehow, to sympathise with Nero’s decision to dump her.
Its chief rival is John Eliot Gardiner’s even starrier live recording from 1996, with Sylvia McNair, Anne Sofie von Otter, Michael Chance, Bernarda Fink and Catherine Bott. It’s a difficult choice. Gardiner’s has tremendous energy, and the advantage of a male Nero (Dana Hanchard). But Hickox has greater authenticity (Gardiner uses new ritornellos and a modified version of the text), and by basing his account on a series of staged rather than concert performances, has the edge dramatically. Claire Wrathall