vintage pg-30 poppea from paris

This past whole month, while fighting deadlines, i had gotten myself seriously obsessive with this production, the one that has been the subject of the last 4 posts. And I have been pondering a bit whether to keep harping on** it.. but have come to a conclusion: it is one I’d always reference for its near perfect execution. Everything simply works!

Monteverdi L’incoronazione di Poppea
Paris 2004 TCE
Nerone: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Poppea: Patrizia Ciofi
Ottavia: Anne Sofie von Otter
Ottone: Laurence Zazzo
Seneca: Antonio Abete
Amore: Amel Brahim-Djelloul
Drusilla: Carla di Censo
Nutrice: Dominique Visse
Arnalta: Tom Allen
Lucano: Finnur Bjarnason
René Jacobs, Concerto Vocale

I’ll use a clip of probably 7th or 8th most important character to start the discussion (note the various instruments throughout):

This is likely the *most* glamorous any of the characters gets. The idea and type of staging is almost a set up for overacting / cariature . Amazingly, this cast managed glorious phrasing while keeping things very much within the storyline, which itself flows like a river (in continuity). In this run, Thomas Allen sang the role Arnalta particularly well, highlighted by his absolutely gorgeous lullaby to Poppea (*highly* recommended, simply GORGEOUS singing). From the clip one can also notice how René Jacobs is conducting: he called for ALL variation of instruments and tempi to bring out emotion, highlight points, connecting lines. Never on top of the singers, always fully complimenting them. I just read an interesting point Dehggi made regarding AlexPen and how she benefits from guidance of conductors such as Jacobs. Looking at the cast above, many of them surely can carry the music and phrasing on their own, but when combining with Jacobs’ idea, it truly made for a special event.

So, before going into the main couple, let’s have a look now at probably the 6th most important character! What i hope to achieve in these two first clips (there will only be 4 total!) is again to show how Rene Jacobs helped shaping the music to completely complement his singers. And for this particular night, the singers were all up to task in a combined effort to play their part both acting- and singing-wise:

The fun/tricky thing about Monteverdi you could say, is the near-complete recitative format. Here, it was so well phrased you don’t really need to know the libretto to follow. In fact, this is a bit of a funny concept on its own: the true meaning of the libretto! 🙂 Do you ever have the experience where people standing right in front telling you something, but you simply don’t get it. Yet, a little subtly movement in the body, the melody of tone, their eyes, and even before a single word exchanged you understand each other? Now that I have listened to quite a few selections of this work, i don’t see why you wouldn’t take advantage of the free form (liberty of using instruments) to aid the painting the story, even if/when you have superb singers, i.e., the Rene Jacobs’ way.

From the 2nd clip, you should now get an idea of the staging already: hip? too modern? too chic? not at all, in my opinion. Look at the story! It simply fits when seen as a whole. D.McVicar made use very well of the TCE’s open space. There’s a very large curtain in the back, the absolutely absurdly luxurious dragon-tail couch where all kinds of people can gather and gang up on any outlier, a “coffin” on which Nerone had an intimate Brokeback-Mountain moment (more from 2 posts ago!) or sniffed his white powder, and a mirror to reflect the luxury/shaddow/people. With this “simple” setup, every scene flows into the next connected. One gets immediately the point without feeling “lost”, often due to the so-many characters popping in and out after scene change. Here, they just all sit on that couch taking turn.

This brings me to Nerone (it’s h(er)is couch!). I have mentioned before I like Anna Caterina Antonacci. Her voice, it simply works for my brain in many cases. Much more importantly, her phrasing and characterization, often she lets you (me) see the “inner” side, so you come out after 3-hour having constructive thoughts on what such and such could be. Vulnerability perhaps, but why not. For me a trouser role should still be about humanity, not macho with overt flirting/draping in combination with grin/smirk/packing.. The primary reason I love Kasarova’s characters is that when she plays them, she gives you a hint how the character is processing information (the engine is cranking, not i-know-it-all). For Antonacci, it’s similar, though I don’t always get her interpretation (she was majorly flailing for some reason as Rodelinda!). The few times that I did, am simply in awe with brain neuron firing all sorts of imagination (those dreadlocks, please come help if 1 year from now am still talking about them…)

Poppea_Nerone_Paris2004

Patrizia Ciofi, Anna Caterina Antonacci

So, back to the character, Nerone’s music is *VERY* difficult to hear for me. It sits very high and simply gives headache unless when sung with a certain “color”/tone. But not just that, it’s how the combo of Jacobs+Antonacci brought it out in this production. It’s simply a joy to “feel” the phrasing and trying to fit it into context, all while Nerone’s engine is cranking. And on this topic, it’s time to appreciate Patrizia Ciofi’s phrasing. The opening duet was a bit off i find, but on the level of musicality, she and ACA matched each other’s extremely well. Again, for the purpose of singing about torment/flirting/love/hate etc, it’s not the obvious facial / large gesture that makes it work (for me). It’s all hidden within “hints”, subtle energy bubbles released by one that is quietly acknowledged/absorbed by the other with a “return” subtle ping (in the phrase, or body movement). Readers familiar with this “series” of analyses will recall the detailed discussion of exchange between Alcina and Ruggiero (and Bradamante) in Wien, Romeo and Giulietta in Munich, and Oktavian and Sofie (the hands!) in Zürich. We will now add this “Nerone and Poppea” to the collection.

What is to make of Nerone the character? (s)he reminded me completely of my 3-year-old nephew! and this is a huge compliment to ACA’s acting skill. (s)he is a bit “rough”, quickly to grab you by their hair, or crotch, how about stomping? short in attention span, must have that firetruck girl now! but mysteriously loyal to (her)his slick boys and has a “soft” inner pocket somewhere for Lucano.. Apparently (s)he’s not 100% enthusiastic with the idea of killing Ottavia, getting rid of her, sure! but *how*! So, in this 3rd clip, I offer what I found as a remarkable similarity to “Parto, ma tu ben mio”:

Poppea might not be holding that sharp dagger DR’s Vitellia has, but those inciting phrases, they’re the worst kind, psychological manipulation! That Tito Seneca is a gonner!

To conclude, we will now be introduced to Ottone, in a light sequel to Polenc’s La voix humaine? I’m very impressed with Lawrence Zazzo’s singing/phrasing. He’s moving around non-stop, but not for a single moment phrasing/care-for-music is neglected. Please note the use of horns!! There’s so much acting/movement/happening one forgets the pit is what’s keeping the machinary well oiled.

The only character not well mentioned in this discussion is Ottavia. But only because I’m trying to keep the discussion a bit short! I talk about her quite often because she comes in pretty early in the music in Act 1, right after the first duet + Poppea’s music. For long listening session, one must traverse her music. She’s the No.2 show-hinderer for me in the past (the 2 guards pouting being 1st, and 3rd being Amore’s chirping). Here, it’s VERY well sung by Anne Sophie von Otter. I read somewhere a review that says she might have been having a hard time following the director’s idea. I don’t think so! She fit in very well! *love* the book throwing fit. (that book is quite well featured here too, his best-seller :D). One last note on the conducting, as Jacobs keeping things very sharp, a sad moment REALLY stands out as sad. Especially in the last scene of Ottavia’s “Addio Roma”, the intro music is simply superb. The key though is to listen from the end of the prior scene to hear the contrast.

So, to wrap it up, by my standard of how things fit as a whole: great staging, superb singing, engaging acting without over-doing, amazing conducting, amazing music, everything simply fit that night. Highly recommended.

————
[Def] “harp on”:
Dwell on; talk or write about to a tedious and excessive extent.

Advertisements

coming in 2 weeks

let’s _not_ discuss the singer who won’t be there! (hic)
here’s Patrizia Ciofi, and the team of Der R in San Diego

(I saw it from facebook, the cool things when you become “fan” of the wonderful Ms Ciofi. She also mentioned “The friends of San Diego Opera preferred dont use translations…Patrizia is very sorry for her wild English!!!” Her accent is soo cool :-), and her english is charming!

Also love this “and if you get _hand gesture_, then you get it!” from Anke.

(i appologize for the very very slow or non-responsive responding rate in the next few weeks…)