Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: L’incoronazione di Poppea
PERFORMER: Emanuela Galli, Roberta Mameli, Josè Maria Lo Monaco, Xenia Meijer, Ian Honeyman, Raffaele Costantini; La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 920916

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Now well on the way to completing this series of Monteverdi’s secular works, La Venexiana’s acquired knowledge shows in this stylish performance of ‘his’ last opera (though some elements, particularly in Act III, are certainly not by him).

The recording is based not on the usual Venetian source but on the Naples score – as was John Eliot Gardiner’s version on Archiv in 1996 – where the instrumental sections are hopelessly corrupt, so La Venexiana have used music by Cavalli and others to connect the scenes. 

There’s some uneven casting. Poppea (Emanuela Galli) and Nero (Roberta Mameli) can be spirited and flexible in their phrasing (as in the Act III ‘Sù Venere ed Amore’) but their voices lack sensuality. Ottone (Josè Maria Lo Monaco) in his appeal to Poppea (end of Act I) offers dramatic depth, but his first entrance in the same Act is marred by the peculiarly fast pace.

Ottavia (Xenia Meijer) has musical agility but her voice lacks weight and character, and Poppea’s nurse Arnalta (Ian Honeyman) is appropriately amusing, but over-harsh in the touching Act II lullaby, ‘Oblivion soave’, slipping between falsetto and chest register.

The star of the show is the splendid Seneca (Raffaele Costantini), and there are notable cameos from Romina Tomasoni (Venus and Pallas), and Makoto Sakurada (as Ottavia’s nurse). There is plenty of variety in the instrumental accompaniments, though the bass is somewhat overpowering, and the acoustic a little dry.

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The 1996 version by John Eliot Gardiner on Archiv is still probably the best of the recordings based on the Naples manuscript. Anthony Pryer