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The Sunday Opera: Claudio Monteverdi's "L'incoronazione di Poppea"

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Claudio Monteverdi’s last opera is the featured work on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/6 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.   After a prologue featuring Fortune (Catherine Pierard), Virtue (Juliet Booth), Cupid (Samuel Linay), Mercury (Brian Bannatyne-Scott), and Venus (Janice Watson), Act One begins with Nero (Della Jones) and Poppea (Arleen Auger) professing their love for each other.   This is a bitter realization for Otho (James Bowman) who is in love with Poppea.  Nero is currently married to Empress Octavia (Linda Hurst), and his affair sets into motion a series of events that will culminate with the ordered suicide of Lucius Anneus Seneca (Gregory Reinhart) and the banishment of Octavia, Otho, and the Lady Drusilla (Sarah Leonard).  Other members of the cast include Mark Tucker as the poet Lucan, Adrian Thompson as Poppea’s nurse Arnalta.   Richard Hickox conducts the City of London Baroque Sinfonia from the keyboard in this 1988 recording. 

Stay with Michael Kownacky after the opera when we’ll begin with one of Monteverdi’s madrigals, “Let others sing of Mars,” performed by Delitiae Musicae before we make a major musical shift and jump 368 years to our next piece.   While searching for other works about Nero, information about an electronic music trio by the same name appeared.   The members of NERO, Dan Stephens, Joe Ray, and Alana Watson, joined forces with the BBC Philharmonic and conductor Joe Duddell to create Symphony 2808 (originally titled The Dubstep Symphony after the style of dance music mainly associated with NERO). 

This amalgamation of electronic and symphonic music with percussion beautifully marries diverse musical styles into a truly fascinating piece.

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.