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Idiomatic performance

Monteverdi's 'L'incoronazione di Poppaea' -
reviewed by

'... highly gifted soloists ...'

Claudio Monteverdi - L'incoronazione di Poppea. © 1994 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte

As we continue our dismal progress into the 21st century, I wonder idly what might be the equivalent period in imperial Roman history we have so far reached. Undoubtedly we have passed Caligula; I think we have progressed beyond Nero; but I am not convinced we have yet reached Elagabalus. At least I have not heard so far that the Conservatives have employed this particular criterion (I leave that to your further research, dear reader) in their choice of a new leader. I am less well-informed about 17th-century Venice and the steady decline that transformed the republic from a trading city to one of glorious art.

A scene from the Prologue. DVD screenshot © 1994 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte
A scene from the Prologue. DVD screenshot © 1994 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte

Resident in Venice from 1613, Monteverdi had his last surviving opera, Poppaea, performed there thirty years later. Its success suggests that it conformed to the spirit of the times, as it fundamentally does to ours. The prologue stages a losing battle between Fortune, Virtue, and the exultant Cupid. In some later librettos a chorus of Virtues is featured. Monteverdi never set them, and this is our sole chance to hear what might have been, if imperial Rome had not been rampantly decadent. Wilke te Brummelstrote makes a powerful plea for rectitude, but she sings in vain [listen -- 'Deh, sommergiti, mal nata' (Prologue), DVD1 chapter 3, 0:00-1:07]. Cupid, sitting atop a world globe, and his assistant vocalist, win the day.

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Copyright © 16 November 2005 Robert Anderson, London UK


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