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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
L'Incoronazione di Poppea
Poppea – Birgitte Christensen; Nero – Jacek Laszczkowski; Ottone – Tim Mead; Virtu/Drusilla - Marita Solberg; Ottavia - Patricia Bardon; Amore - Amelie Aldenheim
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 [180:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Monteverdi's last opera, L'Incoronazione di Poppea has in recent times become his most frequently staged dramatic work. In particular it has become a favourite with a certain breed of 'controversial' director, intent on playing up the latent moral ambiguity of the libretto. This production, staged in Oslo in 2010, is no exception. The blood-spattered box cover gives a good indication of what to expect within, and the blurb ticks all the expected boxes – director Ole Anders Tandberg is described as 'controversial' and 'challen(g)ing the usual operatic conventions'. Unfortunately this production is nowhere near as edgy as it would like to be. Far from 'defiance of usual operatic convention', what we have instead is a checklist run-through of the tropes of 'edgy' modern theatre delivered with little real panache. Showering everything in sight with blood and having the singers roll around in it half-naked simulating anal pleasure is not enough, I would argue, if it doesn't mean anything.
 
What is more original about this DVD is that, whilst based on a filmed production, it's been adapted and edited in post-production, and, most notably, colour-treated. All colours have been drained from the palette except red – roses, lips, but most often lashings of ketchup-y blood. The camera angles too are quite original, with the occasional top-down perspective, showing off the production's intriguing bent-sheet stage. The visual style is a sort of 'grind-house' homage to the Quentin Tarantino of films like Sin City.
 
The back of the box notes that this recording is merely based on a live performance. It soon becomes clear that what we see has only a tangential relation to what was performed for the audience. Many singers appear to be performing direct to camera at some points, and there are moments when the audience seems to be conspicuously absent, for example in the more comedic scenes where one might expect some reaction. The singers are wearing microphones, a fact more obvious at some points than others. Whilst this has obviously been done to facilitate recording - or to alleviate issues of balance - it has the effect of rendering most of the voices very 'close', too much so for my taste. The more resonant voices, Patricia Bardon's Ottavia especially, come across as overworked on screen in a way that one imagines was less pronounced in the house. It only serves to contribute to an effect somewhere between staged opera and MTV music video.
 
Lack of depth becomes something of a theme in the direction – in the desperate rush to be aggressive and controversial, the characters are stripped of nuance and left as unsympathetic maniacs. The production claims to stress the much-heralded 'moral ambiguity' of the piece, but most of the directorial decisions work against any ambiguity. Nero is unquestionably evil, Poppea unshadedly complicit. In the original, Ottone is banished, not shot as here, and Ottavia similarly does not slit her own throat. Nero's sudden clemency is an example of his capriciousness, something to keep the audience unsure about him – in removing it, Tandberg has cheapened the character.
 
The singers mostly do a fine job. Tim Mead confirms his position as one of this generation's great Ottones, singing with muscle and musicality. Birgitte Christensen's Poppea, whilst perhaps not hugely convincing in the role of the conniving consort, sings with good technique and understanding of the style, with some sensitive ornamentation. The role of Nero is more problematic – a male character written in the soprano range, he is most often portrayed by a woman in a trouser role, or transposed down the octave for a tenor. This production, however, elects to cast a male soprano, Jacek Laszczkowski. Whilst this may solve problems of gender or pitch, few convincing performances have so far been given by such a singer in this role, and unfortunately this occasion is no different. With a strange, breathy sound and frequent unhealthy-sounding dips into the chest register, Laszczkowski certainly conveyed the ugliness in the character of Nero, but little more.
 
The musical accompaniment is largely excellent, with the orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera proving themselves more than up to the task of accompanying baroque music stylishly. Not all musical decisions are a success, though. Musical director Alessandro De Marchi is credited as 'conductor and music elaboration', and indeed any conductor confronting Monteverdi's score is required to make a number of decisions about what form the music should take. De Marchi's elaboration takes some surprising forms, however. At Ottavia's entrance, for example, we have anachronistic, jabbed chords for which there is perhaps, at a push, dramatic justification, but certainly not a musical one. There's also a lot of additional percussion which sometimes sits uncomfortably with the rest of the opera's music.
 
This is a bold release from Norwegian National Opera, nicely presented, and an interesting experiment in new forms for displaying and preserving opera productions. Though this production is far from perfect, suffering more than a little from 'style over substance', releases in this form should be encouraged; they provide an experience in many ways more involving than a typical filmed opera DVD.
 
James Potter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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