Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea was the “shabby, little shocker” of the 17th century. It’s about lust, obsession, murder and revenge. So, it’s a bit surprising that all too often it comes off as elegant but deadly dull. That’s rather the case with Pierre Luigi Pizzi’s production filmed at the Teatro Real in 2010. Despite having Danielle di Niese, something of a specialist Roman sex kitten, in the title role it’s all rather bloodless. It starts off OK with the gods and goddesses of the prologue being wheeled about on platforms but after that he gets rather static. Sets and costumes are almost unrelieved grey/silver tones (including a rather fetching pair of silver lamé booty shorts for Damigella) although Nerone himself seems to be dressed as a giant black chicken in Act1 (know you of such a bird, Baldrick?). The only real breaks in the (literal) monotony are the bright red robe Ottone borrows from Drusilla for the attempted murder and the sparkly gold outfits that appear for Nerone and Poppea at the end. It’s also rather dark most of the time.
It’s a shame the production is rather dull because the performances are pretty good. Danni is a rather fierce Poppea (though not as seductive as her Glyndebourne performance) and isn’t afraid to be expressive rather than beautiful at times. Philippe Jaroussky starts out a bit squeaky in his upper register but things improve and he certainly provides a convincingly self absorbed Nerone. Anna Bonitatibus is a powerful presence, vocally and dramatically, as Ottavia. There are engaging performances too from Max Emanuel Cenčić as Ottone and Ana Quintans as Drusilla. Antonio Abete, though, never really quite brings Seneca to life; admittedly a tough challenge. William Christie is in charge musically with a band of 16 or so drawn from Les Arts Florissants. It’s his usual classy performance.
Video direction is by Matteo Ricchetti and it’s unusual. He uses a lot of straight on, whole stage shots. This works pretty well but the low lighting levels do tend to make things a bit murky and indistinct. One feels that this would have benefited from higher definition than DVD can provide and it may be a bit hard to watch on anything but a large screen. The Dolby surround sound is perfectly adequate. It’s transparent and that’s really about all one needs when such small forces are in play. (There’s a LPCM stereo option). Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Despite being generously spread over two DVD9 disks there are no extras. The “booklet” is just a cast list.
It’s hard to recommend this in the face of the competition. If one wants de Niese’s Poppea she’s better in Robert Carsen’s more engaging Glyndebourne production or there’s David Alsen’s Barcelona production with Miah Persson which is pretty good and is the only version available on Blu-ray.