Notes on Poppea

Pinchgut Opera brings Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea to Angel Place in 2017, to celebrate the composer's 450th birthday.

Pinchgut CRH Rameau and Poppea 2048x15362.jpg
Helen Sherman and Jake Arditti in rehearsal as Poppea and Nero

Helen Sherman and Jake Arditti in rehearsal as Poppea and Nero

The Coronation of Poppea set a new trend, avoiding stories of the gods, and instead told a story of real people and events. The real Poppea was born in Pompeii in the year 30AD, and did marry the Emperor Nero and became the Empress of Rome. The story is about sex, violence and power and how they are used. It was a very relevant story then, and it is now. Mark, the director, and Charlie, the designer, have chosen to set this story in a time where these elements are just as important – our own time.


PLOT SUMMARY

Amore (the god of Love and Desire) wants to prove that Love will triumph over Fortune and Virtue in the human world in a single day. Nero is in love with beautiful Poppea who is very ambitious. Nero wants to divorce his wife Ottavia and marry Poppea, even though this would be very bad for his kingdom. Seneca, Nero’s teacher, tells him that he must not divorce Ottavia, but Nero refuses to listen and has Seneca executed. Ottavia asks Poppea’s old lover Ottone to kill Poppea, but Amore saves her. Ottone is caught and confesses. Nero realizes that he now has a reason to divorce Ottavia. Ottone and Ottavia are banished and Nero marries Poppea. Love has triumphed by the end of the day.

Nero and Poppea

Nero and Poppea


Poppea Sabina by John William Godward

Poppea Sabina by John William Godward

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Monteverdi shows off his new technique of using musical phrases and shapes that match the imagery of the text in the confrontation between Seneca and Nero (Act 1).
  • Nero’s vocal lines change mood from phrase to phrase, illustrating his psychotic nature.
  • Arioso laments are sung by Nero’s (ex-) wife and Poppea’s (ex-) lover.
  • There are many love duets, representing emotions from light-hearted flirting to serious declarations of love.
  • When Seneca dies we hear a chromatic madrigal full of tragedy and powerful music.
  • Look out for a beautiful and sensuous duet “Pur ti miro” between Nero and Poppea (Act 3). Note that Nero was originally written for a high castrato.
  • The Pinchgut ensemble features copies of stringed instruments that are over 300 years old.

A 16th century theorist (Artusi) criticized Monteverdi’s harmonic innovations and chord progressions; this led Monteverdi to describe a new style of music that he championed and that contrasted with that of an older generation. He called this new style the Seconda Pratica (or “Second Practice”).


COMPOSER INFO

Monteverdi was born in Italy in 1567.  He was a composing prodigy and published his first book of madrigals at the age of just 15 years. He lived a long life, and published many books of madrigals as well as writing several operas. His music was always forward-thinking and he was among the first to express deep emotions explicitly through music, expressing the meaning of text through musical concepts.

Monteverdi also wrote church music, and he brought his new ideas and compositional techniques to sacred music as well. He wasn’t afraid to repeat a phrase or word in vocal music in order to emphasise its meaning and make the music more elegant.

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi