This year sees the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi, a pioneer of opera and a crucial transitional figure between the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque period. He is credited with the transformation of a private court entertainment into a major commercial genre in Venice with The Coronation of Poppea in 1643. It was also the first time that historical rather than mythological figures were used as the basis for the characters and events. Poppea, the mistress of the emperor Nero, persuades him to give up his wife Ottavia and to condemn the poet philosopher Seneca to death, thus removing the impediments to her ambition to become Empress. Love triumphs for these two disreputable characters who celebrate with one on the loveliest duets ever written. It was not to be the last time that immorality in opera would receive the benediction of beautiful music.
The commendable Pinchgut Opera is staging Poppea this year over five performances in the Sydney Recital Hall from 30 November to 6 December. Conducted by Erin Helyard, directed by Mark Gaal, designed by Charles Davis, it will star Helen Sherman as Poppea and Jake Arditti as Nero. There are excellent reports of both their voices; certainly they will look their parts. Poppea was lost within a decade of the composer’s death, rediscovered only in 1888. We had a fine production at The Australian Opera in 1988; now from Pinchgut, a more ‘authentic’ style and sound.
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