Opera Scotland

Coronation of Poppea L' Incoronazione di Poppea

Music
Claudio Monteverdi (born Cremona, 15 May 1567; died Venice, 29 November 1643)

Text
Giovanni Francesco Busenello (1598-1659).

Source
Classical chronicles – Annals by Tacitus (b c55) and Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (c69 – c140).

Premières
First performance: Venice (Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo), Carnival 1643.
First UK performance: Oxford (), 6 December 1927.
First performance in Scotland: Stirling (MacRobert Centre), 12 March 1973.
Scottish Opera première: As above.

Background
By the end of Monteverdi’s long career, Venice enjoyed performances of opera independent of the ducal courts that had staged performances earlier. The growth of a commercial theatrical culture was most unusual. The Coronation of Poppea is unique for the period in that it is based on real historical characters and events rather than the classical mythology which generally provided source material at the time. Furthermore, it shows fully believable, three-dimensional characters, warts and all. Operas of this period slipped from public knowledge until well into the last century, and they were usually revived in editions by musicologists which added orchestration and adjusted vocal pitches to make them more acceptable to modern audiences. Now that this familiarity has been achieved, those editions by musicians such as Raymond Leppard have served their purpose and may generally be replaced by more intimate versions that are believed more closely to resemble the original.

Main Characters
Otto, formerly Poppea’s lover (alto)
Poppea, Nero’s mistress (soprano)
Nero, Emperor of Rome (soprano)
Arnalta, Poppea’s nurse (alto)
Ottavia, Nero’s empress (mezzo-soprano)
Drusilla, in love with Otto (soprano)
Seneca, Nero’s former tutor (bass)
Lucan, a poet and friend of Nero (soprano or tenor)

Plot Summary
Rome 64AD. Otto arrives back in Rome and is disturbed to find two imperial guards outside Poppea’s house, evidence that she is entertaining Nero inside. Poppea is trying to persuade Nero to marry her. Ottavia is distressed by Nero’s adultery, but Seneca tries to calm her. He is warned by the gods of his imminent death, which he welcomes. Nero discusses his plans for Poppea with Seneca, but is angered by his lack of support. Poppea persuades him that Seneca’s continued existence is inconvenient. Otto, rejected by Poppea, turns to Drusilla instead, and plots his revenge. Seneca calmly receives the order from Nero that he must kill himself, and prepares for suicide. Nero and Lucan are cheered by the news of his death. Ottavia orders Otto to kill Poppea, and he plans to do this disguised as Drusilla. Poppea is lulled to sleep by Arnalta, but wakes before Otto can kill her. He escapes, but Drusilla is arrested and charged with the murder attempt. When Otto confesses, they are both exiled. Ottavia is also exiled and bids a bitter farewell to Rome. Arnalta rejoices at the fact that her mistress has risen to the top of the political tree. The opera ends with Poppea’s coronation as empress and a rapturous duet for the happy couple.

The Cast

Amore
 Cupid
Arnalta
 Poppea's nurse
Damigella
 maidservant in Octavia's household
Drusilla
 Otto's lover
First Soldier
 of Nero's bodyguard
Fortuna
 Goddess of Fortune
Liberto
 a freedman (former slave)
Littore
 Lictor
Lucano
 Lucan, a poet
Mercurio
 Mercury, messenger of the Gods
Nerone
 Nero, Emperor of Rome
Nutrice
 Octavia's nurse
Ottavia
 Octavia, Empress, Nero's wife
Ottone
 Otto, former lover of Poppea
Pallade
 Pallas Athene, goddess of wisdom and justice
Poppea
 Nero's mistress
Second Soldier
 of Nero's bodyguard
Seneca
 a philosopher, Nero's former tutor
Student
 in Seneca's entourage
Valletto
 page in Octavia's household
Venere
 Venus, goddess of love
Virtù
 Goddess of Virtue

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