Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea [Gran Teatre del Liceu/Bicket] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Opus Arte
- Blu-ray Release Date: May 29, 2012
- List Price: $24.99
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Coming relatively hard on the heels of the last L’Incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea) that I reviewed, a seriously flawed Norwegian Opera production, comes this 2009 Blu-ray release from Barcelona’s magnificent Gran Teatre del Liceu. Claudio Monteverdi’s handling of ancient Roman history and the story of Emperor Nero’s succumbing to the copious charms of Poppea in place of his wife, Empress Ottavia, may have been subjected to some literary liberties. The addition of the famous philosopher Seneca and his legendary suicide was not likely related to the Nero-Poppea affair, but adds a bass baritone to a cast dominated by higher voices.
This minimally-staged work has the advantage of brilliant colors in the foreground and relatively modern costumes that contrast with ancient Roman soldier uniforms. Musical direction in the pit comes from a small baroque orchestra under the knowing hand of early music specialist Harry Bicket. Casting of the major roles is quite strong and visually appealing. Soprano Miah Persson is a luminous Poppea, and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly portrays the lascivious Emperor Nerone. Countertenors Dominique Visse (in the drag roles of Arnalta and Ottavia’s nurse) and Jordi Domenech (Ottone), mezzosoprano Maite Beaumont (Ottavia), and soprano Ruth Rosique (Drusilla) turn in solid performances. It was a real vocal and dramatic treat to see bass-baritone Franz Josef-Selig as Seneca.
The videography is just plain stunning and while there are frequent close-ups, the makeup artists have done a masterful job in making all of the characters appear as natural as intended, with the exception of the over the top comic roles. Colors are brilliant and in spite of the spare sets used in most of the scenes, this concept really seems to work with this piece. The costumes, a bit of this and a bit of that, are not distracting, and Ms Persson’s outfits are both sexy and well-tailored. I was literally astounded by the transformation of Ms. Connolly into a rather attractive young man, fitting the role perfectly.
This a recording that makes one want to cheer for both the clarity of the players and the ambience of this great opera house. The orchestra is probably as close to what Monteverdi could have requested and maestro Harry Bicket gets every last note out of the pit to the audience. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the way to go here although the standard 2.0 PCM version is better than most that I have heard.
A spoken 6 minute synopsis will be helpful to those unfamiliar with this early work since there is no specific information about the opera’s plot. A collection of cast photos is also provided.
The Definitive Word
In many respects, particularly from vocal and visual presentation, this is one of the most satisfying realizations of Monteverdi’s masterpiece that I have yet seen. While it does face some competition from an older DVD featuring Danielle DeNiese (also quite a stage presence) and Alice Coote in the leads with forces led by Emmanuelle Haim in a typically spare Robert Carsens production, I think this David Alden conceptualization works quite well and we have a better cast here. The BD field, surprisingly for an infrequently performed work, has an earlier entry from the Norwegian Opera (reviewed here in March 2012). As noted earlier, it is a bizarrely conceived and poorly recorded effort that is trounced by this Opus Arte release. For lovers of baroque opera as well as those less familiar with this genre, I cannot think of a much better way to satisfy both audiences than with this Blu-ray of L’Incoronazione di Poppea.
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