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Monteverdi: L'Incoronazione Di Poppea (Opus Arte: OA1073D) [DVD]  [NTSC]
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Love conquers all - ruthlessly and irresistibly - as Emperor Nero and his mistress Poppea remove the obstacles to their union. At Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu David Alden's visually sumptuous production, with its suggestions of a giant game of chess, puts the opera's potent blend of sex and politics in a context that sets ancient against modern– just as the action juxtaposes scurrilous comedy and stark drama. Monteverdi's magnificent score, meanwhile, accommodates intrigue, wit, nobility, tragedy and sensuality, and, led by the intense Sarah Connolly and the delectable Miah Persson, the cast brings both drama and music startlingly to life.
"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." (Musicweb International)
"Incisive, balanced, varied and brilliant." (El Pais)
"The whole is acutely paced and supported by Harry Bicket's orchestra...The hand-picked European cast is in fine fettle, Connolly's Nero outstanding." (Gramophone)
"Persson is a superb Poppea who can really act with her voice
" (BBC Music Magazine ★★★★)
CastMiah Persson (Poppea)Sarah Connolly (Nerone)Jordi Domènech (Ottone)Franz-Josef Selig (Seneca)
Baroque Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu; Harry BicketStage Director: David Alden
Catalogue Number: OA1073DDate of Performance: 2009Running Time: 183 minutesSound: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTSAspect Ratio: 16:9 AnamorphicSubtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, CALabel: Opus Arte
It exposes the viewer to reflect and be renewed, and with daring and elegance unfolds with the possibilities offered by Baroque opera in modern culture. --El Punt
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The story is, of course, essentially about extreme characters doing extreme things and this element is allowed full rein. The use of minimalist props and scenery throws the dramatic weight onto the singers/actors. The main prop could be described as the lighting which is constantly used to great effect to highlight the characters as appropriate and to segment the stage/scenery in order for the action to have greatest impact.
The use of extreme costuming is entirely appropriate within this concept with the celestial bodies being the most bizarre. The supporting roles such as the double casting of Arnalta and Ottavia's nurse, both wonderfully portrayed with great humour by Dominique Visse, are also strikingly colourful. The least unusual costumes are worn by the leading roles of Nero, Poppea, Seneca, Ottavia and Ottone which strangely gives them the outward appearance of greater normality and thus strengthens their dramatic viability. The minor supporting roles are all imaginatively attired to underline their individual roles within the drama.
There is a great deal of humour in this production which balances the main grim narrative. Changes of pace are frequent and are often considerable which underlines the dangerously unstable situation being enacted. All of this is in the music but a particularly effective use of these wildly varying fluctuations is experienced here giving enormous vitality throughout what is a very long opera.
All the singing and acting is superb. It seems invidious to single out particular artists but one must do. Sarah Connolly as Nero seems even finer than she was in Handel's Caesar. Miah Persson is ideally cast as Poppea having a wild and sensual streak about her as evident several years ago in Mozart's Cosi. She has taken to this early music genre like a duck to water! Franz-Josef Selig brings impressive weight to the role of Seneca with his deep sonority and impressive stage presence. He had the same effect in the recent Mozart's Osmin and Beethoven's Mass. Both Maite Beaumont and Ruth Rosique as Ottavia and Drusilla are equally fine as indeed is Jordi Domenech as Ottone. As mentioned before, Dominique Visse is wonderfully characterful in his double role of Arnalta and Ottavia's nurse. All the minor parts maintain this level of excellence.
The crisply detailed camera work is well up to the standard we have come to expect from Opus Arte and so is the sound, which is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and stereo. There is a useful short bonus in the form of a synopsis and there are copious sleeve notes describing the ideas behind the production.
This is a stunningly effective and very modern production that the audience, judging from the sustained and noisy applause at the end, clearly enjoyed with great enthusiasm. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that most, if not all, purchasers will be equally approving provided that they do not instinctively dislike any production that deviates from the accepted traditional view.
The story of this opera revolves around Poppea and her schemes to become Nero's wife, and therefore empress. As a piece of storytelling, it works well, with both the comedic and the dramatic aspects being brought out well. Throughout the singers are excellent, there is not a single weak link, with even the least in the cast being really good singers and actors. I particularly enjoyed Sarah Connolly as Nero and Franz-Joseph Selig as Seneca, but as I have said, all are excellent in this stellar cast. The singers are ably backed up by the instrumentalists and the conductor Harry Bicket.
It is easy to forgive the foibles of David Alden, the director of the opera, and his costume and set designers, especially when the performance if so good, the production positively zings! So much so that when Nero and Poppea sing their famous love duet at the end of the opera, you wish it didn't have to end!
The extras are a cast gallery and an illustrated synopsis which is helpful as there is none in the booklet; neither is there a track listing, which would have been good, if only to tell you know who is singing what! However, despite the drawbacks of this production, this is a wonderful performance and one I don't hesitate in recommending!
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