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Monteverdi,  L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Soloists, Orquestra Barroca del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Conductor, Harry Bicket Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona 3 & 4. 2.2009 (JMI)

Co-production: Bayerische Staatsoper and Welsh National Opera

Director: David Alden
Sets: Paul Steinberg
Costumes: Buki Shiff
Lighting: Pat Collins


Poppea: Miah Persson/Isabel Bayrakdarian
Nero: Sarah Connolly/Kate Aldrich
Ottavia: Maite Beaumont/Marina Rodríguez-Cusí
Ottone: Jordi Doménech
Seneca: Franz-Josef Selig/Mirco Palazzi
Drusilla: Ruth Rosique
Nurse/Arnalta: Dominique Visse/Xavier Sabata
Amor: Olatz Saitúa
Fortuna/Damigella: Judith Van Wanroij
Virtú/Pallas/Venus: Marisa Martins
Valleto: William Berger
Lucano/Others: Guy de Mey
Mercuria/Others: Josep Miquel Ramon
Liberto/Others: Francisco Vas

Nero: Sarah Connolly and Poppea: Miah Persson

It is interesting that in the recent history of opera, works from the 17th and 18th centuries have become familiar fare, and it is difficult to believe that this is the first time that L' Incoronazione di Poppea  has been presented at the Liceu, 366 years after its premiere in Venice.

For this, its first production of a Monteverdi  opera, the  Liceu has chosen  one of the most interesting stage directors of the present day, particularly in the baroque repertoire. I am referring to David Alden, whose works were presented so frequently in Munich during the time of Sir Peter Jonas.

This production is not a new work, since it was premiered in Cardiff in 1997, has been revived on numerous occasions in Munich and has also been seen at the Palais Garnier in Paris. David Alden knows how to play with the sensuality and the humour of the opera, and directs actors magnificently. With imagination, spectacular lighting and careful direction, Alden was able to present Poppea’s scenes with an outstanding sensuality and eroticism.  The costumes are very bright and colourful, emphasizing the figure of Poppea, making her into a real movie star. The production could have seemed iconoclastic, but in my opinion was not.

The magnificent libretto of Gian Francesco Busenello (combined with the music of Monteverdi) gives us several comic roles (the Nurse, Arnalta, Drusilla, Valletto and the Damigella) and Alden emphasises the humour of all of them.  More debatable is Alden’s interpretation of the three Goddesses, especially Amor, as belonging to the comic cast. However, in other ways Alden is very respectful towards the music and there is no sign of provocation in his  treatment of the great arias for Ottavia nor in the duets of Poppea and Nero.

Harry Bicket was in charge of the musical direction. He is a specialist in this type of music and he gave a good performance, particularly in the more intimate passages. He gave very good support to the singers, although the intensity was not always at the same level, and lacked a little spark in the comic pages. The reduced Liceu’s Baroque  Orchestra, gave a good performance under his direction. The large cast demanded by this opera worked very well, without low points and with some extraordinary contributions.

It is difficult to imagine a  more credible and convincing  Poppea than the Swedish soprano Miah Persson. Her beauty, outstanding figure, her acting abilities and her beautiful voice, together with her great expressiveness, make her the Poppea of one’s dreams. It did not seem at all strange to me that Nero fell in love with her. After offering a splendid performance, she was wonderful in the final duet “Pur ti miro, pur ti godo”, a page that it is not Monteverdi’s.

In the second cast Poppea was played by the Canadian Isabel Bayrakdarian, who had to resolve the difficulties of the score and the memory of Miah Persson the previous evening. I must say that this new Poppea seemed to be in a different league to Ms Persson and the performance was not the same extraordinary experience.

Vesselina Kasarova cancelled her engagement to play Nero, which didn’t surprise me. Sarah Connolly, who was scheduled to perform in the second cast, replaced her and it was a very fortunate replacement. This was one of the best performances I have seen from her, as she was very credible on stage and sang wonderfully, and was an outstanding Nero.   The American singer Kate Aldrich was also very good as Nero on the following night and was by far the best performer in the second cast. She was a very convincing interpreter, looked right and had a pleasant and homogenous voice.

Maite Beaumont - Ottavia

Maite Beaumont was a magnificent Ottavia, difficult to surpass. She  sang her  two great scenes, the sorrowful “Disprezzata Regina” and “Addio, Rome” in a  spectacular way. Ms Beaumont is another singer who is outstanding  in this repertoire, which is very well adapted to her vocal characteristics.  In the second cast, Marina  Rodriguez-Cusí was not at the same level, although she is also a good singer.

Carlos Mena cancelled as Ottone, the Poppea's lover in the opera, and her husband in real life. He was replaced by the Catalan countertenor Jordi Doménech. He was not spectacular vocally, but was a good combination of singer and actor. Drusilla, Poppea’s servant (or her friend in this production) was interpreted by Ruth Rosique, who was quite good. Her voice is well suited to the role and she is also a good actress.

Franz-Josef Selig brought nobility and the necessary stoicism to Séneca, singing the part with a voice very well suited to the character. Mirco Palazzi was the second cast Séneca and he gave a good interpretation. This young bass has an interesting voice in the centre register, but lacks weight at the bottom and is rather colourless in the higher register.

Countertenor Dominique Visse doubled as the Nurse  and Arnalta and   was a superb comedian. Vocally, he was not at his best, but his  stage presence was wonderful. Xavier Sabata was better in vocal terms, but he was not so funny.

In the secondary roles I should mention first of all  William Berger as Valleto. He is a very interesting tenor, who combines a good voice with wonderful acting ability.

There were a few empty seats at both performances, and these increased after each interval. At the final bows there was great appreciation for Miah Persson, Maite Beaumont, Sarah Connolly, Kate Aldrich and Harry Bicket. David Alden was received with both cheers and boos.

José M. Irurzun

Pictures © Antoni Bofill

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