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L'Incoronazione di Poppea

Los Angeles
Chandler's Pavillion
11/25/2006 -  7,10, 13, 16 December 2006
Claudio Monteverdi : L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Susan Graham (Poppea), Frederica von Stade (Ottavia), Kurt Streit (Nerone), David Daniels (Ottone), Reinhard Hagen (Seneca), Christine Brandes (Drusilla), Jill Grove (Nutrice), Christopher Gillett (Arnalta), Keith Jameson (Valletto), Tonna Miller (La Fortuna), Hanan Alattar (Amore/Damigella), Stacey Tappan (La Virtú/Pallade), Levi Hernandez (Mercurio/1st Tribune), Nicholas Phan (1st Soldier/Lucano/2nd Friend/1st Consul), Daniel Montenegro (2nd Soldier/Liberto/2nd Consul), Benjamin Von Atrops (Littore/3rd Friend/2nd Tribune)
Pierre Audi (Director), Miranda Lakerveld (Associate Director), Michael Simon (Set Designer), Emi Wada (Costume Designer), Jean Kalman (Lighting Designer)
Harry Bicket (Conductor).

Those not exposed to opera could come to a mistaken conclusion that this art form is irrelevant and passé, but surprisingly L’Incoronazione di Poppea has great significance in today’s society. Considered by some as the progenitor of opera, Claudio Monteverdi’s final work unveils a transition of classified subjects: from the expectant mythological characters to those of historical value as found in the 17th Century humanism movement.

What we have in this 1643 piece is a convoluted plot that weaves deceit, hatred, lust, and betrayal to the bitter end, resulting in a triumphant Poppea ensconced in a completely immoral universe. Logically, our minds are trained to resolve a work with a moral and just end; however, the opposite is true here throwing a predictable conscience into utter turmoil.

Bedecked with two black concave walls, Michael Simon’s stunningly effective set brackets a luminescent sphere, the center point of dialogue between Virtue, Fortune, and Love. Tappan, Miller, and Alattar sing their respective roles by laying claim to supreme power. The three ladies, dressed in Emi Wada’s ethereal godly garb decide to hear Cupid’s defense as told through the historical story of Poppea and Nerone. Is Love true or false? That remains the unanswered question.

Susan Graham’s L.A. Opera debut provides a seductive Poppea, partnered by the manic-minded Nerone, played by Kurt Streit. The powerful duo fans the flames to infuriate the vengeful Ottavia sung by Frederica von Stade. In a spate of frequent “text painting” von Stade’s brilliant voice hurles commands to the quiet and delicate voice of countertenor David Daniels (Ottone) while emphatically protesting the lurid suggestions of infidelity by Ottavia’s nurse Nutrice. Both nurses also share moments of lightheartedness. Christopher Gillet’s rendition of the “skirt role” Arnalta is fittingly tailored with a squared off head-to-toe papyrus scrolled runner while later in Act III’s Coronation Scene his contrasting black and white cotton folded fan dress bedazzles.

The purported “moral compass” Seneca, advisor to Nerone, performed by the commanding bass voice of Reinhard Hagen, meets his demise in Act II. In his final moments Hagen sings Seneca’s stalwart aria “Non morir, Seneca” while accompanied by his compatriots shrouded in shades of beige frieze.

At times heavy tension in a Baroque work is broken with comic relief. The suave Drusilla (sung by Christine Brandes) flirtatiously banters with Ottone while another divertissement engages Keith Jameson’s light-hearted Valletto with Jill Grove’s portrayal of Nutrice.

A successful production of the Monteverdi opera requires the key ingredient of lighting that Jean Kalman undoubtedly delivers. The strikingly stark sets allow beams of light to hit the walls and throw paired silhouettes of cast members, a never ending reminder of dominance and submission.

In order to authenticate L’Incoronazione di Poppea special consideration requires use of a Baroque ensemble, incorporating harpsichord, chitarrone, and cornets, to name a few. Monteverdi believed that music should symbolize man’s emotional state, and Harry Bicket’s approach affirmed this philosophy.

Once again Pierre Audi returns to The Dorothy Chandler to direct this Italian operatic masterpiece. His expertise in Baroque opera abounds, and he continues to hold the distinguished position of Artistic Director with The Netherlands Opera.

Seldom will Los Angeles opera goers be privileged to see L’Incoronazione di Poppea. This is a seminal work not to be missed.

Christie Grimstad



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