Alongside the 1984 Maria Ewing performance, the best L'Incoronazione Di Poppea...
Though I did like the Ponnelle-Harnencourt and Mireille Delunsch/Ann-Sofie Von Otter performances very much. L'Incoronazione Di Poppea is a masterpiece not just of Renaissance opera but of opera overall. I may find myself moved a little more by L'Orfeo's story, but what makes L'Incoronazione Di Poppea so good other than the wonderful music is its sardonic irony and the poetic and very lively plot, which further benefits from being structured so masterfully.
Visually, I think this 1994 production looks great. The lighting is suitably dark and moody, while the costumes and sets have an appropriately dream-like quality to them. The video directing and picture quality are great, and the sound likewise. The staging always does a fine job conveying the many emotions of the drama, I found that particularly true of the roles of Ottavia and Ottone.
Musically, it is one of the most authentic and most beautifully-played performances of L'Incoronazione Di Poppea on DVD. The orchestra is kept simple with string, two cornetti and basso continuo, but play with attention to musicality, style and beautiful playing. I found the cornetti playing especially striking. The conducting is suitably assured, while also giving the score a sense of intimacy.
The performances I found not to have much of a weak link. True, I do prefer Nerone as a castrato/counter-tenor, and here Poppea seemed the stronger character compared to the Harnencourt production. However Brigitte Balleys still sings wonderfully with the tone firm and easy on the ears, and captures the perversity and sexual ambiguity of Nerone better than Von Otter(still great) for example. Cynthia Haymon's Poppea, very like Maria Ewing, is a strong and beguilingly regal woman and like with Balleys' Nerone sung with great beauty of tone.
Of the other roles, there were three standouts. Ning Liang was an electrifying Ottavia, whose anger, revenge, hatred and despair gives a devastating effect. Harry Van Der Kamp play physically look a little young for Seneca, but nevertheless sings powerfully and has a compelling presence, his death scene is splendid. And Michael Chance is one of the finer Ottones I've encountered, the character's sexual obsession with Poppea is very convincing here and as well as singing with a crystalline quality Chance plays Ottone with real fervour and a sense of drama.
Heidi Grant Murphy is also a sweet-voiced Drusilla, while Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, like in the Delunsch performance, makes Armalta witty, wise, humorous and somewhat graceful also. All in all, a superb production of Monteverdi's great opera, recommended without hesitation or reservation. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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