L’incoronazione di Poppea (Barbican, 4 October 2014)

Two different Poppeas in a little over a month? Monteverdi has steadily grown in me. One of these days he’ll join Mozart and R. Strauss amongs my top favourites. And the day shall come: it’s now official – although unsurprising – that we’ll see Il ritorno d’Ulisse1 at the Barbican next year!

Poppea: Lynne Dawson 
Nerone: Sarah Connolly
Drusilla/Virtu: Sophie Junker
Amore/Damigella: Daniela Lehner
Ottavia: Marina de Liso
Seneca: Matthew Rose
Ottone: Iestyn Davies
Arnalta: Andrew Tortise
Nutrice: Vicki St Pierre
Lucano/2nd Soldier: Elmar Gilbertsson
Valletto/1st Soldier/Highest Familiari: Gwilym Bowen
Liberto/Middle Familiari: Richard Latham
Fortuna: Charmian Bedford

Conductor: Robert Howarth director | Academy of Ancient Music
Stage director: Alexander Oliver

The performance was dedicated to the founder of AAM, conductor Christopher Hogwood, who died late last month.

Pre-concert talk with Anthony Pryer (Goldsmiths, University of London): the talk was pretty good, it introduced Poppea in its historical context and went into the many meanings it had to those who saw it back then (1643) – why Seneca is the butt of jokes, why write an opera about a corrupt emperor – and that it’s the first historical opera, the influence of poet Giambattista Marino on Poppea librettist Giovanni Francesco Busenello etc. I guess I’d have added it’s one of the few libretti that stands as a play even without the music. It was fully attended, people even stood.

This semi-staged performance lost its original Poppea (Anna Caterina Antonacci) and conductor (Richard Egarr). Whereas I wasn’t fussed about Antonacci’s pulling out (with plenty of time to spare), after seeing Egarr conducting L’Orfeo here last year I was bummed. And I was even more bummed having seen Poppea at Grimeborn at the end of August.

I liked that one better.

It’s not that this wasn’t good. It was. Most of it. The semi-staging wasn’t bad. The singers wore costumes – contemporary – and there were chairs that made sense what with the idea of hierarchy at the heart of the opera. Amore sang from the Circle when s/he needed to save Poppea from Ottone’s murder attempt. Seneca’s followers mixed with the public for the vey dramatically powerful Don’t die, Seneca bit. It wasn’t bad but compared with the wit of the Grimeborn one it felt a bit old fashioned. The idea of pushing off the harpsichordist so that Lucano and Nerone could make their own music was just wicked: the Grimeborn production was simply funnier. Here I chuckled a few times, mostly thanks to Bowen (who was also in the Grimeborn production) and Andrew Tortise’s Arnalta and sometimes just because the text was funny (like when Ottone asks Drusilla for her clothes so that he can impersonate her whilst killing Poppea, at the various asides the nurses make).

The conducting/direction wasn’t bad, although maybe sometimes a bit lacking in momentum. But, again, I found the Grimeborn one to possess more sparkle and inventiveness. I know Monteverdi leaves a lot of room for interpretation, what with having provided little beside the vocal parts. Yet I still remember the bits I really liked from that one: the very inventive harpsichord accompaniment, the neat cello and trumpet. There were no trumpets here, but there were three harpsichords, which, true, at times collaborated very nicely with each other. But I don’t know that I will remember the orchestral part as I do the other one.

The singing wasn’t bad. In fact it was the best thing, as it should. But not all of it. Sarah Connolly (Nerone – commanding), Iestyn Davies (Ottone – tortured), Matthew Rose (Seneca – quite thoughtful), Daniela Lehner (Amore – cheeky) and Andrew Tortise (Arnalta – funny) were all excellent, no complaints there, either vocally or dramatically. Sorry to say I didn’t think Lynne Dawson made a good Poppea. As far as I’m concerned, Elizabeth Holmes from the Grimeborn production was far superior, both vocally and dramatically. I don’t know LD, but I venture to say Baroque may not be for her. Sorry if I’m dead wrong, but that’s how it seemed to me. I also preferred Maria Ostroukhova from Grimeborn’s as Ottavia over Marina de Liso. It was just a more memorable voice and presence, as I think Ottavia should have.

So, to conclude, it wasn’t bad. But I’ve seen better less than two months ago.

PS: Sorry, Leander, I tried but I didn’t spot you. I suggest we try to meet sometime at Wigmore Hall, it’s so much more of a less fussy meeting place. I also had some communication issues with the friends I was meeting there. The building is a nightmare… and the mobile connection is faulty. I guess today wasn’t exactly my day 😉


  1. Yay! Can Marijana Mijanovic be Penelope, pretty please? She’s still singing, right? Hell, even if she’s not! 

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on October 5, 2014, in baroque, historical timeline, live performances and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. I’d like to hear Egarr’s conducting too – I’ve admired his harpsichord playing for years.

    Also, I wish I could hear Poppea live, even a concert performance rather than fully staged. It’s never really grabbed me on DVD, but I have a feeling if I was at the right performance, I might be won over.

    • Egarr is very entertaining live. I saw his L’Orfeo from the 3rd row last year (a couple of weeks before starting this blog, hence no review) and it was so much fun just watching him. It’s definitely not lagging. He’s doing stuff here all the time, if London is in your cards soon check out the Barbican schedule, he’s bound to be doing something somewhere.

      I’m surprised DVDs have not done it for you. I do have a feeling the Grimeborn production would have worked, it was very clever. Originally I tended to skip the introduction with Fortuna/Amore/Virtue but somehow that production made it work for me.

      Or is it the music you’re not sure about?

  2. I saw just the beginning “L’incornazione di..” and screamed “what! you heard L’incornazione di Dario TOOO???!!!!” then realized it’s Poppea :-D. sorry to hear it wasn’t the best of the two.. Lynn Dawson was very good in Messiah on yt, that’s the only thing i know.. though personally i think Antonacci would have made a veeery good Poppea (I recently watched the entire Medea and though hated the storyline thought she was absolutely brilliant, voice included, but not in the “beauty” sense people often look for.. it’s got an edge that works quite nice w/ drama..)

    earworm: you could consider coming to boston next year, they’re staging all 3 of Monteverdi’s operas at early music festival! and amazingly i’ve just explored all 3.. surely the Poppea one with Sara Mingardo in army fatigue automatically works from note #1 :D, but Alessandrini’s conducting is quite fresh as well (avail on yt).

    • Army fatigues? I should see that one. Yes, at least dramatically I think Antonacci would’ve been better. You know I’m not crazy about her voice.

      London is getting better but there’s no Incoronazione di Dario yet. I just bought a ticket to Il mondo della luna in English, though.

      • here, let me help you ;-). Actually Laura Poverelli is also a very good Poppea i find (for those finding her name familiar, she was our Romeo to Ciofi’s Giulietta in a very very fun internet gathering of WS crowd of live broadcast from Liege some 4 yrs ago..)

        • feh, I missed all the fun. I’ll have to check that when I get home, I’m sneaking peeks at work 😉 but WS stuff isn’t exactly the kind of peek I want to be seen sneaking at work…

    • all right, the army fatigues (and you know, the voice 😉 ) were very good but I think I’m going to skip the tenor Nerone.

  3. You’d have laughed at me – I spent the entire evening craning to look at people’s shoes!!! And the Barbican is a total maze, it’s true. We couldn’t even find our way out at the end.

    So. I’m still trying to get my thoughts in order about this, and my only comparison is the Jaroussky version on DVD, but I’m glad to see that your feelings more or less mirror my own. I felt great anticipation about hearing Davies, on account of him playing Farinelli next year at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and I thought he had a lovely voice and acted the part very well – but I’d be keen to hear him do something with a bit more ‘oomph’ as Ottone just seems to spend most of his time wandering around being melancholic. Agree about Dawson. I thought I was just being mean but overall she really didn’t seem right for the part. I felt even meaner using the word ‘matronly’ about her to one friend, but when the other friend independently used exactly the same word… She just didn’t have the voluptuousness that you need and there wasn’t really much chemistry between her and Nerone. I liked Matthew Rose’s Seneca very much.

    But Sarah Connolly? Blown away. Phenomenal. If you can have Fagioli as an honorary mezzo, I’m having her as an honorary countertenor. What a voice. And such a stage presence. I honestly forgot she was a woman after about five minutes, and it was so interesting to see her en travesti so soon after Alice Coote as Xerxes. Both successful but in very different ways. She really impressed me. I’m going to have to buy the DVD of her singing Nerone in Barcelona just so I can watch her do it all over again.

    • re: Connolly: and great legs, eh?

      • Can’t say I was really looking at her legs as such… but if you say so, it must be true 🙂

        • also, if she really made such a strong impression on you (she would, I agree) you MUST see the Glyndbourne Giulio Cesare where she’s singing the title role. It will be very difficult to imagine anyone else – man or woman – in that role afterwards.

    • agreed Ottone is hardly the most fun role. I didn’t know Davies is playing Farinelli next year, I should check it out myself.

      I wouldn’t have laughed, I was looking for a turquoise scarf even on the tube! hehe.

      • Here’s the link to the play at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. If you have a strong preference for Davies or Purefoy, make sure you get the right day, as they only perform on particular dates. Tickets are already pretty scarce. I’m behind a pillar for Davies. And Mark Rylance as Philip V by the way. Hugely excited. http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse/farinelli-and-the-king

        Incidentally, there was someone sitting in front of me in the first row of the Circle with a black leather jacket and jeans, but brownish shoes, and I was fighting the urge to lean forward and say, “Excuse me: are those Kickers?” I only resisted because it would probably sound like a terrible attempt at a chat-up line.

  4. What, you mean we were actually in the same row and still couldn’t spot one another?!

  5. So, less than 10 seats apart and we totally failed to spot one another despite the careful descriptions. My, my, my. Nul points for observational skills for both of us, I’m afraid. 😉

  6. I saw Ostroukhova in this year’s Handel festival performance of Ariadne in Crete. She was the best of the bunch. Sadly couldn’t make it to the Grimeborn Poppea (a fact I was genuinely sad about,) but she has gone on my list as one to keep an eye on. As a further Grimeborny thing, I want to add that their Acis and Galatea was legitimately delightful and I am STILL randomly singing ‘happy nymphs and happy swains’ to myself two months after seeing it.

    I share your thoughts re: Dawson. I thought her Italian diction a little English in places, but as a compensation, it projected quite well as a result. As all seem to agree though, Poppea is more than just her voice. How to make a man forget his kingdom and wife, if not by sexual wiles and sheer erotic appeal? Sadly, even semi staged, an opera becomes wed to action/acting which regrettably becomes linked to investing of belief in that same action, a great component of which is ‘do I believe this action, this singer’ (to say nothing of whether those same actors believe in what they are doing, which comes down to their acting…and which is another question entirely.) So, Dawson tried, but as Leander said, she just didn’t ‘fit’ the brief. I am charitable in my suspension of disbelief. I am accomodating in my reaction to certain directional choices, visions, decisions. But if a lady looks like someone’s gran at a wedding, twirling diaphanous silks as if she thought herself some lovestruck naiad/naïf in a Waterhouse painting then sorry, but my credulity is sorely tried. Yes, I’m a meanie, but we all thought the same….right?

    Mention has already been made of SC’s delightful Nerone. I am also in agreement with other reviewers on other singers so it only remains for me to state my wish to agitate for Mr Tortoise to get a Twitter account so I can follow his movements, as it were.

    • >> Yes, I’m a meanie, but we all thought the same….right? <<<

      in so many words. When thadieu mentioned Mozart I thought I could indeed imagine LD singing something in that rep. But these vixen roles are tall orders for most singers. Such is life. And it's not just looks, it's sound too. Not everybody sounds sexy.

      sounds like I need to hit the Handel Festival if it's not sold out, whenever the next one is. And I will definitely return to Grimeborn next year.

      btw, are you not updating your blog anymore?

      • Always there’ll be a few things (more than a few most years!) worth attending at the Festival and well worth a browse. I feel the same about Grimeborn (I’ll be back.)

        Yes, not updating my blog anymore. I realised I am not best qualified to post impressions of singers (as other are,) and moreover the pro reviewers/critics go to the same things I do (and more) and say the things quickly, easily, clearly which often I am thinking or at least concur with, so I thought not to bother anymore. Plus writing them took a while! But thank you for taking a look. Maybe we’ll meet at an even in the future.

        • well, that’s a pity. I love your few reviews. It’s not often you get somebody with a wicked sense of humour reviewing. It’s true critics do it quicker and clearer but not nearly as much fun.

          I guess you’re to be found on Twitter, then? I might give in and get an account at some point, it seems there’s a lot of fun to be had there. Would like to meet at an event 🙂

      • Thanks dehggial 🙂 I am going to Tosca in Paris next week so might review that? It has great opportunities for snark. Conducting by Oren, staging by Audi. Alvarez is my Cavaradossi, so expecting fine voice but some wood in the acting. So it goes. Tezier as Scarpi should be a consolation. Watch this space…(maybe!)

        Leander is right, Twitter can be engrossing, in a good way, but less so if you are “time-poor.” Still as you rightly say Leander, a great way of forming new friendships, acquaintances and the like, at the least, a boon to discussing things with like-minded people.

        • then I’m going to keep an eye out… sorta 😉

          I’ll look into Twitter at some point. I really enjoy writing here but I’d also like to expand my opera-buddy zone, so to speak.

  7. Twitter is fantastic, but a complete time-hog. It’s like popping into a coffee shop to get an espresso during your lunch break, spotting a couple of friends at the back, and being dragged into a discussion so fervent that you’ll be lucky to get back to the office that afternoon. But on the other hand I’ve found it the most amazing way to meet other ‘barocchisti’ – not that you need so much of the social-networking angle, I feel.

    • you paint an enticing image… time-hogging is an issue but could be wonderful for when I’m working nights 😉 which is more often than I’d really like.

  8. Accidentally stumbled upon this review…I’m shocked to be preferred over an established artist in this role. Feeling quite happy!

  1. Pingback: L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643) – The Idle Woman

Leave a Reply to dehggial Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s