I’m never quite sure what to expect from David Alden. Some things are predictable; striking images, bold colours and a degree of vulgarity, but beyond that it’s hard to be sure. Sometimes he seems to be trying to be deep (his Lucia for example), sometimes more kitschy (Rinaldo) and there’s always a slight undercurrent of him thumbing his nose at the audience. His production of L’incoronazione di Poppea at Barcelona’s Liceu is a curious combination of all these things and I think it works pretty well.
There are lots of striking images and bold colours. There’s some campiness with false noses and the like. There’s also a fair amount of trouser and knicker dropping going on. In fact that seems central to Alden’s concept. Everybody, it seems, is thinking with their sexual organs except, paradoxically, Poppea herself who mostly comes off as rather chaste relative to her surroundings. To be fair, there is one scene where I’m not sure what she is wearing but “chaste” doesn’t describe it. But still, Poppea somehow seems less depraved than most. I think Monteverdi would rather have liked that.
It’s a very well sung and acted performance. Miah Persson is ideal in the title role. She’s a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice and she glides elegantly through the carnage around her. She’s well matched by Sarah Connolly’s Nero. The characterisation is a bit like her Giulio Cesare (but with less staring at Danny de Niese’s bottom) and the singing is spot on. Franz-Josef Selig is a really good Seneca. He’s the other island of calm in the madness and he shows how to control his powerful bass down to the scale of the music as well as he does in lieder. Ruth Rosique is rather good as a sort of sexy librarian Drusilla. Dominique Visse hams it up spectacularly as both of the nurses. All the many other roles are also well executed.
Harry Bicket conducts the Baroque Orchestraof the Gran Teatre del Liceu and his reading is transparent and carefully modulated, bringing out the contrasting textures as well as the sheer lyricism of the music. There’s an interplay going on here between the subtlety of the music making and the brashness of the visuals.
Video direction is by Xavi Bové and it’s pretty good. Nothing too fancy here and all the better for it. With a 1080i HD picture and very solid surround sound on the Blu-ray it’s pretty much state of the art technically. The only bonus material though is a synopsis and cast gallery. The booklet contains a useful essay but no track listing. Subtitle options are English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Catalan.