L'incoronazione di Poppea
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One would be hard pressed to find a more immoral story: what the 74-year-old Claudio Monteverdi and his librettist Francesco Busenello came up with over 350 years ago with their drama of characters and intrigue L’incoronazione di Poppea undermined every moral code. In one of the first works to be written for a public theatre rather than the court, Monteverdi abandoned the mythological tradition in favour of an authentically historical subject: the story of the Roman emperor and tyrant Nero.
Nerone has fallen for Poppea’s seductive charms. Poppea’s husband, Ottone, knows about his wife’s intimate relations with the emperor. Nerone’s wife, Ottavia, also bemoans the loss of her marital harmony and asks the philosopher Seneca to help her through the people and the senate. Seneca points out to Nerone the difference between power and the abuse of power. But Nerone, who removes anyone who stands in the way of his illegal love affair, drives the philosopher to suicide. For her part, Poppea stops at no calumny and exploits Nerone’s weakness to her own advantage. Following a failed assassination attempt on Poppea, Ottone and his accomplice Drusilla are banished. Nerone, obsessed by his love of the power-hungry Poppea, drives Ottavia out and, in flagrant disregard of reasons of state, makes Poppea his new empress. – The prophecy in the prologue, that says that reason and morality are powerless in the face of power and love, proves true.
The musical text of Monteverdi’s last opera L’incoronazione di Poppea was believed lost for many years and was not rediscovered until the end of the 19th century in Venice. This work places the lust for power and feelings of helplessness in close proximity to each other. Monteverdi, one of the inventors of opera as an art form, set these human emotions and passions to music with depth and perceptiveness. Poppea and Nerone’s closing lovers’ duet in particular is of supernatural beauty despite the horror by which the lovers are joined.