| L'incoronazione di Poppea - Teatro Real Madrid, 24 May 2010 |
The culmination of a three-year Monteverdi project led by conductor William Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi at Madrid's Teatro Real, L'incoronazione di Poppea brings a potent blend of sex and politics, high drama and comedy. Leading the cast are Danielle de Niese, Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic and Anna Bonitatibus.
William Christi, who most recently started 2012 at New York's Metropolitan Opera, conducting The Enchanted Island, is joined by the Les Arts Florissants as he evokes a veritable orgy of nuances, subtly creates atmosphere and shows a perfect sense for the accents of the piece. It took Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi three years to mount Monteverdi's three operas together. The result was a production full of elegance and beauty.
Performed in a new edition of the Venetian version of the opera by the musicologist Jonathan Cable, Poppea features a starry cast. Playing the upwardly mobile temptress of the opera's title is the glamorous American soprano Danielle de Niese, who, in the words of the New York Times, is "seductive enough to woo gods as well as mortals".
In an interpretation described as "overwhelming" by El Pais, the capricious Emperor Nero (Nerone) is embodied by French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. The brilliant Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic plays Nerone's rival for Poppea's love, Ottone, while Nerone's discarded wife Ottavia, is sung by the Italian mezzo soprano Anna Bonitatibus, described by Forumopera as "an incandescent Ottavia who vouchsafed a superb example of singing and of theatre".
O tempora! O mores!
In his opening speech against Catiline, Cicero deplores the viciousness and corruption of his age. Cicero is frustrated that, despite all of the evidence that has been compiled against Catiline, who has been conspiring to overthrow the Roman government and assassinate Cicero himself, and in spite of the fact that the senate has given senatus consultum ultimum, Catiline has not yet been executed. Cicero goes on to describe various times throughout Roman history where consuls have killed conspirators with even less evidence, sometimes - in the case of former consul Lucius Opimius' slaughter of Gaius Gracchus (one of the Gracchi brothers) - based only on "quasdam seditionum suspiciones", certain suspicions of insurrection (Section 2, Line 3).While listening to the music of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and his students that was performed to such perfection I casually googled Internet for historical information about the characters appearing in the play. And what shocking reading it makes, ugh. Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985) told us about those times in I, Claudius (1935) but reading the factual history and Tacitus is worse.
Considering the historical background Giovanni Francesco Busenello (1598 -1659) wrote a surprisingly self-contradictory libretto about the victory of evil over good. The opera was first performed in Venice during the carnival season 1642-43. They knew the story well; while the royal couple sings the heavenly final love aria the audience surely remembered that soon enraged Nero would kick pregnant Poppea to stomach causing her death.
Monteverdi's vivid music describes the characters vividly from the dignity of Seneca the Younger and Octavia to the strangely childlike Nero made helpless by the beautiful cunning Poppea. The music is harmonic and beautiful while the characters are grotesque murderers and conspirators of the worst kind.
In the introduction audience is warned that this is not a story how good wins over evil. And it is not.
Veni, vidi, vinci
The events date to the time when a new religion was spreading from the East and first considered a sect of the old religion of Judaism.
L'inconorazione di Poppea gives a highly realistic, almost twist in tongue description of the world into which the child of Virgin Mary was born.
The Roman authorities and the Jewish religious leaders crushed Him.
But quietly, from heart to heart, He won over this Iron Empire of power politics, legal systems, almost invincible military power, police force and cultural domination of Mare Nostrum.
Constantine the Great and with him the entire Empire of Rome knelt in front of the Man of Galilee only about three hundred years after He had been crucified in Jerusalem.
He had won and it was time for Western Rome to go.
Did humanity change?
It is so remarkable how Monteverdi and Busenello addressed the Venetian audience through the opera. They knew their people and were sure that the contemporary meaning of the play will not escape the Italian citizens of 17th century.
Nor are we any better than the Borgias or Flavians.
Humanity has not changed. Our interest in Monteverdi's baroque opera is proof of that, isn't it?
What has changed is the arrival of the Son of God with forgiveness, grace and God's love.
Who can love a world like this?
Our Heavenly Father can.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him
John 3:16-17 NIV