The culmination of a three-year Monteverdi project led by conductor William Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi at Madrid's Teatro Réal, L'incoronazione di Poppea brings a potent blend of sex and politics, high drama and comedy. Leading the cast are Danielle de Niese, Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic and Anna Bonitatibus.
William Christie, who most recently started 2012 at New York's Metropolitan Opera, conducting The Enchanted Island, is joined by the Les Arts Florissants as he evokes a veritable orgy of nuances, subtly creates atmosphere and shows a perfect sense for the accents of the piece. It took Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi three years to mount Monteverdi's three operas together. The result was a production full of elegance and beauty.
The major debut on Decca DVD of Danielle de Niese. Returning to the opera house where she sang her sensational Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare, Danielle performs the title role in Monteverdi's great opera of lust and power, in Robert Carsen's new, modern-dress staging. De Niese is perfectly cast as the beautiful and seductive Poppea who ruthlessly grabs power as Nero's lover but, in this production, is doomed from the moment of her coronation. De Niese's performance is vocally and dramatically powerful, perfectly complemented by Alice Coote as Nero. The two are supported by an outstanding cast, together with period-performance stars Emmanuelle Haïm conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Carsen creates an intelligent and visually-strong production, focusing on the personal side of the story. At times the action is violent and shocking, but this is juxtaposed with episodes of lightness and humour.
From the early 1630s onwards, Monteverdi had little by little become detached from his secular occupations – perhaps preparing to take his leave of earthly existence. But when he was already over 70 he set to work once more, publishing his eighth book of madrigals before offering the public a bulky collection of sacred works in the shape of the Selva morale e spirituale. Infinitely more ambitious than the comparable anthologies of his contemporaries, the work is here presented complete, enabling the listener to discover the whole range of Monteverdi’s output of sacred music, from madrigals and virtuoso solo motets to the most elaborate polyphony. In his preface evoking the multifarious “creatures” sheltered by this vast “moral and spiritual forest”, the father of Baroque music was merely emphasising the wonderful diversity of styles so characteristic of his wide-ranging genius.
John Eliot Gardiner’s recording was made live at the Göttingen Festival in 1988 … the exhilaration and intensity of the performance come over vividly, with superb singing from both chorus and an almost ideal line-up of soloists … as for the Monteverdi Choir, their clarity, incisiveness and beauty are a constant delight.(Penguin Guide)
Monteverdi's larger choral pieces are so masterly that they tend to overshadow his chamber scale sacred music the solo works in particular. Occasionally one or two of these exquisite motets will appear on a collection such as Paul McCreesh's Venetian Vespers, but rarely do they become the focus of an entire recording as they are here. The much-admired early-music diva Maria Cristina Kiehr has a slightly constricted quality to her voice that won't appeal to everyone, but her very narrow vibrato colors her sound without affecting her accuracy of pitch, spotless coloratura, or blend with period instruments (played beautifully here by Concerto Soave).