Given the existence of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (from 1643), his Orfeo (from 1600), and numerous other works, it seems amazing that this great institution has not attended to the early operatic works in the repertoire. We’ll see if, while embracing more contemporary operas—something I very much support—whether or not they can reach back into the repository of Baroque and pre-Baroque compositions as well. Of course, I love the great Verdi standards, the lovely Puccini operas, etc. But we simply need a wider range, which I do believe the current director of the MET, Peter Gelb, is willing to embrace.
Yet, we must forget all of this given the absolutely stunning singing and performances of the great stars performing this work, most notably Joyce DiNonato (as Agrippina), two countertenors—the wonderful Iestyn Davies (as the Poppea’s main lover, Ottone), and the more comic would-be lover Narciso (Nicholas Tamagna)--a “pants” female performer, the amazing Kate Lindsey (as Nerone), the endlessly beautifully singing of Poppea (Brenda Rae), and, to represent the lower ranges of the score, Matthew Rose (as Claudio).
The image which dominates this John Macfarlane and David McVicar production is a mausoleum in which all of these significant figures are, by opera’s end, entombed. These figures were determined to be destroyed almost before they live out their full lives.
Yet, one wonders at musical arias they create, particularly in the end of Ottone’s denunciation sung by the tortured, wrongly accused hero, “Otton, qual portentoso fulmine" followed by "Voi che udite il mio lamento"; the later laments of Agrippina “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate”; and the later cocaine induced fury of Nerone’s aria “Come nube che fugge dal vento” (“Like a cloud that flees from the wind”).