Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monteverdi - L'Incoronazione Di Poppea – Ivor Bolton

This masterpiece by Claudio Monteverdi--arguably one of the greatest operas ever penned--has done quite well on recordings. Since the autograph score doesn't exist (what does exist are the sources of performances given in Naples eight years after the premiere) the instrumentation is left up to the conductor/arranger. My first contact with Poppea was through Nikolaus Harnoncourt's 1974 Teldec (then Telefunken) set, in which he augmented the strings and added winds and brass--all authentic instruments, of course--and the effect was brilliant. His cast was near-ideal as well. Since then Poppea recordings have come and gone, countertenor Neros are all the rage, and slimmed down orchestration--almost to continuo only--is perfectly acceptable. In 1990 Richard Hickox led a lean but mean performance on Virgin Classics and now conductor Ivor Bolton follows suit--and more effectively, I might add. Using only five string players and a barrage of continuo instruments--lute, guitar, harp, two harpsichords, organ, chitarrone, and viola da gamba--he still manages to generate some real fire in this nasty, amoral tale, and he's handsomely abetted by his cast.

image Both Anna Caterina Antonacci and (countertenor) David Daniels are fearless as Poppea and Nero; purists may argue that they employ more vibrato and lean on notes in a very un-pre-Baroque fashion, but who cares? They present us with portraits of these two holy terrors that are unforgettable. Similarly, Kurt Moll's big-scale Seneca is thrilling in its nobility and morality--two traits that get the character killed, by the way. Dominique Visse sings the travesty role of Poppea's nurse, Arnalta, and he is by turns wildly campy and tender (in the lullaby), just as he should be. Alex Köhler's Ottone is nicely sniveling, Nadja Michael offers an Ottavia to reckon with and feel for, and Dorothea Röschmann gives Drusilla more energy than most and it's truly alluring. And high praise also must be given to boy soprano Klaus von Gleissenthal's Amor--a colorful, right on-pitch, realistically acted portrayal. Bolton's pacing is ideal and his band cannot be praised highly enough. Fabulous!--Robert Levine

CD INFO

Ape, scans

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