Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Poppea

In 2017 Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and a rather distinguished group of specialist baroque singers toured semi-staged versions of the three main Monteverdi operas, which were also recorded for video. Being a bit skeptical about the idea of videoing semi-staged performances I decided to take a look at L’incoronazione di Poppea (because it’s my favourite of the three) before committing to the trio. Bottom line, despite some stylish singing, good acting and excellent playing I can’t really see the point. There are good fully staged versions of all three operas available on video and, for me, especially watching at home, it’s hard for a semi-staged version to fully engage my attention.

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So what’s this version like?  It was recorded at La Fenice in Venice with the orchestra on stage.  The principals mostly sing from in front of the band but some action takes place behind and at the sides.  There are rather abstract costumes and no scenery or props but, happily, no music stands.  Nero is played by Korean counter-tenor Kangmin Justin Kim and he’s partnered by Czech soprano Hana Blaziiková as Poppea.  They have great chemistry and are suitably sexy and a bit repellent, as they should be.  Gianluca Baratto is a very solid and quite moving Seneca.  The diminutive Silvia Frigato does a cheeky chappie version of Amor and is really quite funny.  Michal Czerniawski as the nurse is perhaps less camped up than some versions but sings very well.  There’s good chemistry too between Carlo Vistoli as Ottone and Anna Dennis as Drusilla.  The other soloists are just fine too.  I fancy that this cast would do a really good fully staged version.  Of course, the conducting is top notch idiomatic and the band is excellent.  It’s a bit more restrained than some productions but all the elements are there except, of course, the staging!

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Technically the recording on Blu-ray is excellent.  The picture and both stereo and surround sound tracks are crystal clear.  Video director Sébastien Glas does a very decent job though this is not a difficult production to film.  Unusually for Opus Arte the disk package is a bit skimpy.  The only extra is a cast gallery and the booklet is super basic with the credits and a two paragraph summary of the opera.  Subtitle options are Italian, English, French, German, Korean and Japanese.

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So there you have it.  If you must have a John Eliot Gardiner recording this one has a lot going for it but I would prefer a fully staged version such as Robert Carsen’s Glyndebourne production (not currently available) or the Barcelona production with Miah Persson.  I’m told the Sivadier production from Lille is also excellent but I haven’t seen it.

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Catalogue number: Opus Arte OABD7297D

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