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Poppea: Classic René Jacobs

available at Amazon
C. Monteverdi, L'Incoronazione di Poppea, D. Borst, G. Laurens, J. Larmore, Concerto Vocale, R. Jacobs
(1991, re-released 2010)
Harmonia Mundi | 3h17
The wave of historically informed performance (HIP) recordings of L'Incoronazione di Poppea began in the early 1990s, when Alan Curtis recorded the work with his ensemble, Il Complesso Barocco, a set hard to obtain these days. Perhaps the first classic HIP recording of the work was that made by René Jacobs and his ensemble, Concerto Vocale. Jacobs showed the range of what was possible in reconstructing the opera, since the lack of specificity in instrumentation in the musical sources -- and the many differences in sources of the libretto and score -- make performing the opera an act of re-creation. The deluxe packaging of this re-release, from 2010, has the full libretto and extensive program notes included as a little book. This includes all of the decisions Jacobs made in editing his own version of the score: using recorders as well as strings (even trumpets!), drawing from both the Venice and Naples versions ("I can no longer conceive of an Incoronazione without the spectacular coronation of the new empress by humans and deities," Jacobs writes), adding even more sinfonias and ritornellos by other composers into what was already a patchwork, casting choices, cuts.

Instrumentally, then, this is a beautiful and idiosyncratic version of Poppea, with some delightful realizations of the basso continuo accompaniment. Vocally, it is not ideal, with singers like Axel Köhler (Ottone), Guy de Mey (Lucano), and Dominique Visse (Nutrice) in some of the earlier renditions of these roles they performed many times. The top of the cast is quite good, with especially the puissant intensity of mezzo-soprano Guillemette Laurens as Nerone, matched by a sharp-voiced Poppea in Danielle Borst, neither with quite the ideal purity of tone for the famous concluding duet, "Pur ti miro." Jennifer Larmore is a caustic and patrician Ottavia, while tenor Christian Hornberger uses a lovely falsetto to give a funny but not over-the-top rendition of Arnalta. Michael Schopper's Seneca is a little tremulous and worn thin, perhaps a good characterization for the aging philosopher, but Franz-Josef Selig's Seneca in the new DVD reviewed last week was a greater moral center for the gravity of his voice. Jacobs gives the right air of sadness to Seneca's death scene, with a mournful trio of earnest students. Innocent joy comes across in the Valletto-Damigella duet, here cast with two lovely sopranos, Christina Högman and Maria Christina Kiehr.

Ivor Bolton (Munich)
William Christie (Madrid)
Harry Bicket and David Alden (Barcelona)


Anonymous said...

What about Harnoncourt in the late 70s? The cycle was released on CD and later Laserdisc/VHS:

Charles T. Downey said...

It's on my list, and I will mention it in this series. It was before that wave in the 90s, though.

Charles T. Downey said...

Also, I have written about the Harnoncourt Monteverdi revival, in the context of the DVD of Orfeo.