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Poppea: In Munich with Ivor Bolton

available at Amazon
C. Monteverdi, L'Incoronazione di Poppea, A. C. Antonacci, D. Daniels, K. Moll, Bayerische Staatsoper, I. Bolton

Farao B 108 020 | 2h49
British conductor Ivor Bolton cut his teeth at the Glyndebourne Festival, before leading a celebrated series of productions at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich -- he now conducts the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and the newly formed Dresden Music Festival Orchestra. Bolton's Poppea came across my desk a couple years ago, in a re-release, and there is much to enjoy, beginning with the title role in the dramatic hands and shattering voice of soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci. Her Italian diction and sense of the flow of the role, shifting so effortlessly between recitative and metered pieces, are impeccable.

This cast also featured a countertenor as Nerone, in this case the excellent David Daniels, but the role, created originally for a rather high soprano castrato voice, stretches Daniels (and Philippe Jaroussky, reviewed yesterday) to some shrill unpleasantness at the top. The musical requirements seem to justify the less satisfying solution dramatically in this case, casting a woman as Nerone. Ottone, a lower role, works better for countertenors, but not really for Axel Köhler here. Dominique Visse makes an acid-voiced Arnalta, Kurt Moll is a woolly, dignified Seneca with some puissant low notes. Other high points include Dorothea Röschmann as a manic, cute Drusilla, and the innocent sound of a child treble, from the Tölzer Knabenchor, in the role of Amore. There are enough disappointments in the other bit parts that go against this version, as well as tenor Claes-Håkan Ahnsjö, who as Lucan has an unattractive duet with Daniels in the second act.

David Alden staged this production (more about that later), recorded live at the Munich Opera Festival in 1997 in not outstanding sound. There is lots of rustling of costumes and clatter of shoes caught by the mikes, and too much distance and room in the overall sound. To be fair, that was one of the aims of the Farao label, according to a booklet note by Peter Jonas, Intendant of the Munich State Opera. Bolton leads an excellent reading of the score, conducting from the harpsichord, with fine variation in the sound of the continuo section, with none other than Christina Pluhar on harp and Baroque guitar. That variation of the continuo sound is a principal attraction of the Christie recording, too, which helps cut down on the monotony of the recitative. Unlike Christie, Bolton uses only strings plus his varied continuo group (Christie gave some parts to recorders -- the score says next to nothing about the instrumentation), and he takes some unusual but striking liberties, like the glacial tempo of the opera's glorious concluding duet ("Pur ti miro"), which gives the piece a sensual quality rather than making it stall.


bronzino said...

To have heard Daniels (and Minter) perform this live at BAM in the 90s was to have experienced unexpected delight. The Lucano/Nerone duet was effortless and searing--Daniels had no problems with the "ah, destino" repeats. I had uncontrollable, hot tears of rapture streaming down my cheeks (yes!)on hearing this then, and the Munich recording is the closest thing we'll ever get to having this moment captured (Daniels no longer has those top notes). I cherish this recording.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for sharing that memory, which provides a beautiful context for this recording.