Notes and Editorial Reviews
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 4:3
A production of UNITEL
L’incoronazione di Poppea
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond; Renate Lenhart (
); Helrun Gardow (
); Klaus Brettschneider (
class="ARIAL12">); Rachel Yakar (
); Trudeliese Schmidt (
); Eric Tappy (
); Paul Esswood (
); Matti Salminen (
); Janet Perry (
); Alexander Oliver (
); Zürich Op Monteverdi Ens
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4174 (2 DVDs: 162:00)
Stage director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle was always willing to try something different in opera, while remaining respectful of both composer and librettist. Sometimes his ideas misfired, but he had many of them, and he never ceased to be interesting. In this 1979 film, he hit on all cylinders. What we get is a bracing, theatrically intense production of
that faithfully embraces all the energy, extravagance, lofty and farcical elements, and underlying
of the opera. The costuming is excellent, and the basic set—a series of platform rises between columns and busts of either Nerone or both Poppea and him—is appropriate as a unifying device to the story.
Another, similarly unifying device is provided through the war among Love, Fortune, and Virtue. First observed in the work’s Prologue, these three anthropomorphized principles are usually ignored after that. (Some productions sadly omit the Prologue altogether.) Ponnelle follows through on Love’s boast that he will triumph over both his opponents, and places all three on stage through most of the work. Silent observers once past their big scene, they occasionally get caught up in the activity, but only in so far as they interact dumbly with the main players. Never do they distract from the main event where the drama is played out; and eventually it is Love, a triumphantly smiling golden-haired boy with black Cupid wings, who stands victorious at Poppea’s coronation and commands the homage of a kneeling Fortune and Virtue.
Ponnelle was known for being highly selective as to his cast members, and working with them as actors long before his productions saw light of day. There isn’t a poorly arranged
mise en scène
or wooden performance here. I would spotlight in particular Oliver’s wonderfully bawdy Arnalta, Esswood’s complex Ottone, and Tappy’s Nerone—a magnificent monster, all Hotspur haste at throwing himself into whatever emotion comes momentarily to the fore.
The singing is almost as good. Only Brettschneider reveals some intonational problems. The rest of the cast is uniformly fine, with Salminen, Tappy, Yakar, and Perry drawing especial praise for their combination of security, ease of production, and facility with coloratura. (Salminen was one of those basses, like Reizen, who could command the drama by musical means, alone; a good thing, considering the theatrical black hole that Seneca is.) They also act consummately with their voices, something that is not identical with physical acting, but should (and here, does) complement it. Harnoncourt’s orchestral forces in turn perform with spirit and precision.
Wolfgang Treu’s camerawork is perfectly bound to Ponnelle’s staging. It is static when necessary, but also capable of dramatic movement—not merely to one side or the other, but from the front of the stage to the back or vice versa, as when Nerone and Poppea are momentarily left to their triumph on a raised background tier. Suddenly the focus shifts forward, the protagonists blur, and Ottavia strides in, forward stage right, to lament her downfall and banishment from Rome. Visual images are clean and edges clearly delineated, with none of the color change or contrast problems that sometimes arise in vintage work. The sound is well balanced between singers and orchestras, with a healthy degree of ambience that never swamps the performances. Only occasional issues with lip sync detract from the overall effect.
Subtitles are offered in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese. Sound formats are provided in PCM Stereo, and DTS 5.1. Alas, the second DVD is almost empty, for Deutsche Grammophon decided to add no features save the usual trailers.
This is an excellent production, proof (if such were needed) that it’s possible to create a non-traditional staging of an opera that is also completely faithful to the work. My recommendation? By all means, buy it. You won’t be disappointed.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
L'Incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi
Rachel Yakar (Soprano),
Paul Esswood (Countertenor),
Renate Lenhart (Soprano),
Peter Straka (Tenor),
Matti Salminen (Bass),
Trudeliese Schmidt (Mezzo soprano),
Janet Perry (Soprano),
Helrun Gardow (Mezzo soprano),
Rudolf Hartmann (Bass),
Philippe Huttenlocher (Baritone),
Klaus Brettschneider (Boy Soprano),
Maria Minetto (Alto),
Fritz Peter (Tenor),
Peter Keller (Tenor),
Alexander Oliver (Tenor),
Eric Tappy (Tenor),
Suzanne Calabro (Soprano)
Zurich Opera House Monteverdi Ensemble Orchestra,
Zurich Opera House Monteverdi Ensemble
Written: 1642; Venice, Italy
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