Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
L'Incoronazione di Poppea
Birgitte Christensen (Poppea), Jacek Laszczkowski (Nero), Tim Mead (Ottone), Marita Sølberg (Virtú/Drusilla), Patricia Bardon (Ottavia), Amelie Aldenheim (Amore), Ina Kringlebotn (Fortuna), Tone Kruse (Nutrice), Giovanni Battista Parodi (Seneca), Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro (Arnalta), David Fielder (Valetto), Magnus Staveland (Lucano)
Orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera/Alessandro De Marchi
rec. live, Norwegian National Opera, 2010
Director: Ole Anders Tandberg
TV and Video Director: Anja Stabell, Stein-Roger Bull
Sound: PCM Stereo
Picture: NTSC/16:9
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitle languages: Italian, English, German, French, Japanese, Norwegian
EUROARTS 2058928 DVD [180:00]
Is this an opera performed for an audience, or one performed strictly for TV viewers? At the very beginning of the film, you see conductor Alessandro De Marchi enter the theatre, and start leading the musicians in the pit, but once the camera switches to the stage, everything changes. The video becomes fuzzy, the colours all disappear, with the exception of reds, and the singers seem to ignore the existence of an audience. The information about this recording says that it is "based on a performance", without providing any more detail.
In essence, it seems that the performance itself was filmed just for the original TV broadcast and for its release on DVD and Blu-Ray. The singers often look directly at the camera, and there are many close-ups, and few shots of the entire stage. In addition, at times it seems that some of the singers are lip-syncing.
The video features many effects, such as blurring around characters as they move, freeze-frames, slow-motion shots, "replays" and others. All in all, this is an interesting approach. However, the de-saturated colour makes the visuals a shade monotonous. At least until the stage is covered in blood.
The singers are a mixed bag. Tim Mead has good technique, but is unconvincing as Ottone, but Patricia Bardon's powerful voice makes a wonderful Ottavia. Amelie Aldenheim, who only has a few singing parts, has an attractive voice, but she seems to try too hard. Male soprano, Jacek Laszczkowski, as Nero, has trouble hitting the highest notes near the end of the opera.
One problem with the voices in general is that they were most likely recorded in post-production. This allows the mix to make the voices much more prominent than they would be if recorded during a performance. It also explains the lip-syncing. Their being too close and overwhelming the music tends to be disturbing.
In the end, this staging of an opera for television, seemingly designed to attract fans of The Sopranos (the other kind of sopranos), alienates by its choices of starkness and violence. The music is well performed, but with the singers' voices so prominent viewers are prevented from appreciating the orchestra. While the idea of making a TV production of an opera is certainly laudable, the choices in this production seem to be those that would push away many viewers. It seems as though everything in the direction and staging is designed to be an "effect", turning the characters into mere puppets. The excessive close-ups suggest that each character is somehow separate from the broader production, as though they were all soloists, each working on their own. The bloodiness at the end of this opera is also devoid of any feeling. It is there for shock value - hence the overall de-saturation of colours, except for red.
In the end, this is an un-memorable performance. It is very de-personalising, with the starkness of the production literally draining the colour out of the work. The idea of adapting an opera for television in this manner is interesting but the specific approach used here doesn't work for me.  

Kirk McElhearn 

A stark, empty performance, with some decent singers, but distracting sound and staging. 

see also review by James Potter