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The Sunday Opera: Claudio Monteverdi's “L’incoronazione di Poppea” from Barcelona

Claudio Monteverdi’s last opera is the featured work on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/10 3:00 p.m.). “L’incoronazione di Poppea” was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1643 carnival season, the same year that Monteverdi died. Because of this, scholars believe that several hands other than Monteverdi helped to complete the work. The highly fictionalized libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello begins in the realm of fact, but he admitted that he “adapted” those facts to fit his storytelling. The resulting libretto makes Nero appear to be a compassionate leader, Poppea to be a victim of circumstances, and Octavia a ruthless and vengeful spurned wife which are all far from what history has shown.

The opera begins with a prologue featuring an argument between Fortune (Rita Morais), Virtue (Irene Mas Salom) regarding who has the most power over men, Amore (Jake Arditty) enters, and says that it is he who rules both Fortune and Virtue, and they only have to listen to his story to understand why.

Act One begins with Nero (David Jones) and Poppea (Julie Fuchs) professing their love for each other. This is a bitter realization for Otho (Xavier Sabbata) who is in love with Poppea. Nero is currently married to Empress Octavia (Magdalena Kozena), and his affair sets into motion a series of events that will culminate with the ordered suicide of Lucius Anneus Seneca (Nahuel Di Pierro), and the banishment of Octavia, Otho, and the Lady Drusilla (Deanna Breiwick). The opera ends with a duet between Nero and Poppea who have married as the result of the banishment of Octavia. Poppea is crowned in a scene thought to show lust and greed rewarded and virtue punished.

Just as a historical side-bar: Busenello’s libretto paints these characters with a wide, fantastical brush as, historically, shortly after the finale of the opera, Nero kicked Poppea and their unborn child to death, and he commits suicide not too long afterwards.

Other members of the cast include Thobela Ntshanyana as the poet Lucan and Emeliana Gonzales Toro as Poppea’s nurse Arnalta. Jordi Savall conducts the Gran Teatre del Liceau Opera Orchestra.

Get your dancing shoes after the opera as we change things up with a delightful piece adapted and orchestrated by Joaquin Rodrigo. Soleriana is a 1953 ballet based on the works of priest/composer Antonio Soler (1729 – 1783) who wrote over 500 compositions with 150 of them being for the keyboard. Rodrigo took eight of those keyboard pieces and created this work which includes dances like the tourbillon, fandango, and boleras. Maximiano Valdes leads the Asturias Symphony Orchestra in this charming recording.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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