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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
L’incoronazione di Poppea [2:49:39]
Anna Caterina Antonacci - Poppea (soprano); Silvia Fichtl - Fortuna, Venus (soprano); Caroline Maria Petrig - Damigella (soprano); Dorothea Röschmann - Drusilla (soprano); Jennifer Trost - Virtù, Pallade (soprano); David Daniels - Nerone (counter-tenor); Axel Köhler - Ottone (counter-tenor); Dominique Visse - Arnalta (counter-tenor); Marita Knobel - Nutrice (alto); Nadja Michael - Ottavia (mezzo); Claes H. Ahnsjö - Lucano, Tribune (tenor); Christian Baungärtel - Valletto (tenor); Hans Jörg Mammel - Liberto, soldier (tenor); Hubert Schmid - Tribune (tenor); Gerhard Auer - Littore, Consul (bass); Kurt Moll - Seneca (bass); Rüdiger Trebes - Consul (bass)
Members of the Bavarian State Orchestra/Ivor Bolton (harpsichord and direction).
rec. live,  July 1997, Prinzregentheater, Munich, Germany. DDD
FARAO CLASSICS B108020 [3 CDs: 78:59 + 53:24 + 36:46] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


It is the singers, particularly the principals, who make or break this opera. On their shoulders rests the responsibility to articulate and express the intimately human foibles, weaknesses, drives and appetites of the intrigue at a terminally corrupt Roman court of the first century CE. With this recording comes a sense that many of the singers are ‘living up’ to their roles; that they have styles and strengths from outside the ‘early’ music field. In particular, Anna Caterina Antonacci (Poppea), David Daniels (Nero) and Kurt Moll (Seneca) still carry us with them, for the most part, despite an approach that some listeners will find inauthentic and deviant from what is known about Baroque articulation and vocal technique. One would question the over-styled Ottone and the underpowered Ottavia. Dorothea Röschmann’s Drusilla is much more centred and convincing. It won’t come as much of a surprise that Kurt Moll’s Seneca really is what makes this set worthwhile if those reservations get in the way of your enjoyment.

The instrumentalists are more even. It’s a group of ten, some doubling with more than one instrument, of course. Half the group is strings; half continuo. This sounds well and the standard is high. Monteverdi left little indication of which instruments were to play when. So inevitably the responsibility for the colour which they convey is director and harpsichordist Ivor Bolton’s. Fortunately, he was involved closely enough with the origination and refinement of this production to have succeeded in making compelling palettes and moods. 

To concentrate on the text and substance of the drama as Bolton does seems a wise and profitable decision. We are disadvantaged, though, in making an assessment of the production as a whole because we only have the music and none of the staging to respond to on a CD. For this is very much a live recording – from the 1997 Munich Opera Festival. As well as coughs, applause and laughter (though no gasps) there are stage sounds, stage business and stage movements to add to the sense of being present. Indeed, some listeners might find this all rather intrusive, although none of the intensity or beauty of Monteverdi’s amazing score is lost or compromised completely. Our experience of Poppea has been largely of a distilled, somewhat refined psychological study with the Roman ‘atmosphere’ coming out of the larger- than-life characters and the way they respond to situations in which our sensibilities look for parallels with contemporary machinations. 

Peter Jonas, the Bavarian State Opera intendant explains clearly and emphatically in his note in the booklet that in recording this live performance a conscious decision was made to ‘capture’ its excitement and benefits. He lays much of the credit for this at the door of the independent and innovative FARAO label. 

A word must be said about how Poppea has been ‘reconstructed’ here. While we know that it was first staged in Venice in 1643 and was very probably Monteverdi’s last work, we shall never be sure just how much of what we have – including, sadly, the exquisite ‘Pur ti miro’ – may not be by Monteverdi at all. Nor, of course, can we have much idea of the instrumental scoring. This recording seems to stay fairly faithful to what Monteverdi probably intended: sparse, minimal continuo and organ for many of Cupid and Seneca’s scenes. But then the singers and musical momentum had better respect the almost introverted dynamic that this meagreness implies. It’s not at all clear that the singers on this recording have had that uppermost in their minds. A rather flustered irony has trumped restraint in some places. 

It is this feeling of participating in a somewhat raucous burlesque that has been emphasised in this performance as opposed to the more suave and reserved elegance of Gardiner on Archiv (447088) and to the lusher sound of Harnoncourt on Teldec (063010027).

So for collectors of Monteverdi masterpieces this will be a welcome reissue; there is a place for it. Despite its tendency to fussiness, there is a kind of purity. But not a neo-classical one. The effect of this is to force a listener to question some assumptions and accept new lights shining with unconventional colours on the objects beneath. The actual sound of the recording is somewhat boxy; the text in the booklet in Italian, German and English is hard to read. All in all, it would be hard to make this a first choice for Poppea

Mark Sealey 

 


 


 




 


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