04 April 2019

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Claudio Monteverdi — L’INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA (A. Crider, K. Sulayman, K. Pracht, N. Tamagna, M. Treviño, M. Harvey, M. Molomot, N. Heinen, N. Hill, N. Huff; Florentine Opera Company, 30 & 31 March 2019)

IN REVIEW: the cast of Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI (1567 – 1643): L’incoronazione di Poppea, SV 308Amanda Crider (Poppea), Karim Sulayman (Nerone), Katherine Pracht (Ottavia, La Virtù), Nicholas Tamagna (Ottone), Matthew Treviño (Seneca), Melissa Harvey (Drusilla, Amore), Marc Molomot (Arnalta), Nicole Heinen (Valletto, La Fortuna, Famiglieri), Nathaniel Hill (Liberto, Tribuno, Soldato pretoriano, Famiglieri), Nicholas Huff (Lucano, Famiglieri, Littone, Soldato pretoriano, Console); Florentine Opera Baroque Ensemble; Jory Vinikour, harpsichord and conductor [Robin Guarino, Director; Melissa Benson, Costume Designer; Noele Stollmack, Set Designer; Mary Ellen Stebbins, Lighting Designer; Erica Cartledge, Wig and Makeup Designer; Debra Loewen, Choreographer; Florentine Opera Company, The Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; 30 and 31 March 2019]

Whether an expedition’s breadth is measured in miles, days, or feelings, it cannot be disputed that, literally or figuratively, the greatest journey begins with a single step. That step is not always steady, does not invariably advance the journey in the intended direction, and cannot unfailingly be perceived by uninvolved observers, but its significance is often immeasurable. Opera existed prior to the première of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in 1607, but it was Monteverdi’s work that propelled the art form from its emergence in works like Jacopo Peri’s Dafne and his earlier L’Orfeo, the score of which is lost, to the entity that continues to evolve and thrive in the Twenty-First Century. Regrettably, only three of Monteverdi’s operas—L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea—survive in substantially complete form, each of them an important step in opera‘s advancement. Presented in the beautiful and aptly-sized Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall in Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Florentine Opera Company’s production of L’incoronazione di Poppea provided an enlightening and marvelously entertaining opportunity to take this momentous step in opera’s history anew.

First staged in Venice’s Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, L’incoronazione di Poppea was Monteverdi’s final opera, its première during Carnevale 1643 coming only a few months before the composer’s death. Giovanni Francesco Busenello’s libretto for the opera assimilates material taken from sources including Dio Cassius, Tacitus, and Gaeus Suetonius Tranquillus, conjuring a daringly theatrical but sometimes historically dubious glimpse into the Roman emperor Nero’s reign. There continues to be debate about the origins of the opera’s music, some of which, including much of the writing for Ottone and the widely-known final duet for Poppea and Nerone, is attributed with varying degrees of plausibility to composers including Francesco Sacrati, Benedetto Ferrari, and Francesco Cavalli. Whether Monteverdi himself assembled the disparate parts or supervised a collaborative process is unknown, but Florentine Opera’s Poppea was remarkably cohesive, musically and dramatically.

IN REVIEW: harpsichordist and conductor JORY VINIKOUR (foreground), with violist ​MARIKA FISCHER HOYT (left) and violinist ​KANGWON LEE KIM (right), in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]Master of Monteverdi: harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour (foreground), with violist ​Marika Fischer Hoyt (left) and violinist ​Kangwon Lee Kim (right), in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

In practical terms, the success of this show owed much to the edition of the score specially prepared for this production by harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour. Incorporating Tarquinio Merula’s ​C-major ​Ciaconna​ (Opus 12, No. 20)​ to open the second of the two parts into which this production was divided and judiciously adapting the version of the score devised for the 2015 Boston Early Music Festival by conductor and musicologist Stephen Stubbs, Vinikour circumvented the piece’s potential longueurs to produce a fast-paced drama that faithfully preserved the essence of Monteverdi’s and Busenello’s convoluted but absorbing narrative. Poppea poses many problems, extant Seventeenth-Century manuscripts dating from productions staged after the composer’s death, but those problems were persuasively solved in this production. Honoring both Monteverdi and the customs of his time, Vinikour’s performing edition achieved ideal equilibrium between humor and hostility.

Several landmark productions of L’incoronazione di Poppea utilized lavish evocations of the hedonistic splendor of Nero’s Rome as backdrops for the opera’s intimate drama, sometimes distracting audiences’ attention away from crucial interactions among characters. For Florentine Opera’s staging, director Robin Guarino took a minimalist approach, scaling the action to match the dimensions of the story and the space in which it was being told. Guarino’s realization of Poppea examined the ways in which the lives and destinies of all of the characters are upended by a river of blood that runs through the opera’s metaphysical terrain like a fault line; or, in this production, like the ball of scarlet yarn that was gradually unwound to symbolically bind the characters and their actions in a single linear progression.

The conditions that in Monteverdi’s time might have been viewed as inflammations of the blood—lust, ambition, betrayal, rage—were explored in imagery like that of the chair occupied by Seneca bathed in red light during Poppea’s garden scene, intimating that the sage’s spilled blood stained the future empress’s hands. Mary Ellen Stebbins’s intuitive lighting and Noele Stollmack’s utilitarian set designs visually manifested Guarino’s concept, and Melissa Benson’s costumes and Erica Cartledge’s wigs and makeup insightfully reflected the moral and sexual ambiguities of the characters and their relationships, dichotomies further advanced by Debra Loewen’s choreography. History indicates that, despite his imperial pedigree, Nero was no stranger to flamboyant depravity. In Florentine Opera’s visit to Nero​​’s Rome, his milieu was colorfully ribald but never overtly vulgar.

Conducting from the harpsichord, Vinikour presided over an ensemble of musicians who brought to this production of L’incoronazione di Poppea a degree of period-appropriate authenticity now commonplace in Europe but still quite rare in American theaters. Violinists Allison Nyquist and Kangwon Lee Kim, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt, and cellist Jennifer Morsches played with historically-informed articulation that combined crisply-executed ornamentation with gratifying tonal warmth and body. The incisiveness of Morsches’s phrasing was extraordinary, her instrument an integral voice in the opera’s discourses. The continuo was completed by Deborah Fox and David Walker, whose playing of theorbo and Baroque guitar provided a firm, flexible pulse. The placement of the harpsichord, a bright-toned double-manual instrument built by and loaned to Florentine Opera by Bryan Gore, in the theater’s small orchestra pit introduced the challenge of stage-right action occurring beyond Vinikour’s range of sight, but the coordination between stage and pit was impeccable. Cuing singers and instrumentalists with instinctual timing whilst playing the harpsichord with the technical acumen for which he is renowned, Vinikour guided performances that demonstrated mesmerizing musical and emotional continuity.

IN REVIEW: baritone NATHANIEL HILL (left) and tenor NICHOLAS HUFF (right) as the Soldati pretoriani in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]Spirited soldiers: baritone Nathaniel Hill (left) and tenor Nicholas Huff (right) as the Soldati pretoriani in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

Each portraying multiple rôles, three of Florentine Opera’s 2018 - 2019 Baumgartner Studio Artists contributed sonorously to the consistent excellence of the production’s vocalism. Baritone Nathaniel Hill sang and acted skillfully and attractively in all of the rôles assigned to him, but it was as Liberto, the captain of the Praetorian guard ordered by Nerone to relay to Seneca the grim news of the imperial prerogative demanding the stoic’s death, that he was most impressive. Aided by the ​voice​’s handsome timbre, the sincerity of his expression of regret at finding Seneca though doing so was his mission, a moment often depicted lightheartedly, was unexpectedly affecting. Tenor Nicholas Huff was also fully convincing in all of his guises but was most memorable as the poet Lucano (the historical Marcus Annæus Lucanus), who joins Nerone in a bravura duet celebrating the death of Seneca. Staged in this production as a cruel game of drunken seduction that culminated in Nerone slashing Lucano’s face in an outburst of petulant, jealous neurosis, the scene was electrified by Huff’s vocal and dramatic fearlessness. First heard as the golden-voiced Fortuna in the opera’s brief Prologue, soprano Nicole Heinen later faithfully served Ottavia as the opinionated Valletto. She delivered ‘Madama, con tua pace, io vo’ sfogar la stizza’ with exasperation that unmistakably limned the character’s disapprobation for Seneca and threatened to perpetrate arson on the philosopher’s property and person with an incendiary statement of ‘Che vo’ accenderti il foco, e nella toga, e nella libreria.’ All three of these gifted young artists displayed voices and stagecraft that qualify them for prominent careers.

IN REVIEW: soprano MELISSA HARVEY as Drusilla in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]Loyalty under fire: soprano Melissa Harvey as Drusilla in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

Both in the Prologue and in her appearances elsewhere in the opera, soprano Melissa Harvey sang the music for Amore with wonderful brio, the exuberance of her personification of the goddess’s confidence making the triumph of her agenda seem inevitable. Though the prowess with which she distinguished one character from the other was particularly commendable, the playfulness with which she brought Amore to life also animated her portrayal of Drusilla. In this production, Drusilla was an oasis of earnestness in an expanse of duplicity, her affection for Ottone charmingly flirtatious and ultimately fatefully profound. Declaring Drusilla’s love for Ottone, Harvey used the music as a blueprint for constructing a multi-dimensional characterization of the optimistic, fiercely determined young woman. Joyously surrendering her cloak to disguise Ottone for his attempt on Poppea’s life, her devotion to claiming a new life with the man she loved was sweetly touching. Harvey’s singing was unfailingly lovely and stylistically right, but the scene in which she falsely confessed to attacking Poppea in order to save Ottone’s life impelled operatic emoting of the highest order. Immense but deeply personal tenderness flooded Harvey’s voicing of ‘Adorato mio bene, amami anche sepolta,’ but, as ever, the integrity of the musical line was maintained.​ Consequentially, Nerone’s sole act of mercy in the opera is inspired by Drusilla, and it was impossible to imagine even the most stony-hearted emperor condemning Harvey’s endearing, sparklingly-sung Drusilla.

IN REVIEW: tenor MARC MOLOMOT as Arnalta in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]Lady of the house: tenor Marc Molomot as Arnalta in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

Casting tenor Marc Molomot as Poppea’s nurse and confidante Arnalta was as inspired in its way as partnering Kirsten Flagstad’s Brünnhilde with Lauritz Melchior’s Siegfried. Bringing extensive experience with Early Music to this production, Molomot was an Arnalta who upheld Seventeenth-Century conventions but set a standard of his own in the rôle. Warning Poppea of the dangers of her liaison with Nerone and of men’s general fickleness, this Arnalta was genuinely funny but also discernibly genuine. Assigning the high line in the madrigal in which Seneca’s followers lament his fate to Arnalta, who spied on the scene of the philosopher’s demise, was ingenious, closing the gap between the public and private worlds that shape the opera’s cataclysmic confrontations and lending the music an arresting immediacy. Arnalta’s lullaby for Poppea, ‘Oblivion soave,’ is one of the most exquisite pieces in Seventeenth-Century opera, and Molomot sang it with piercing expressivity that so entranced the audience that merely breathing seemed to disturb the scene’s serenity. Awakened by Amore at the moment of Ottone’s approach, Arnalta exulted in rescuing her mistress from the murderous blade with a stirring traversal of ‘Ho difesa Poppea,’ sung in existing Venetian and Neapolitan libretti by Amore but fruitfully given to Arnalta in this production.

Contemplating the vastly different circumstances that awaited Arnalta upon Poppea’s ascent to the throne, Molomot sang ‘Oggi sarà Poppea di Roma imperatrice’ with an aura of vindication. The tenor’s affinity for Monteverdi’s musical language was always perceptible, but the true glory of his performance was the emotional complexity of his portrayal. Molomot’s Arnalta unquestionably cherished the prospect of upward social mobility, but she also loved and feared for Poppea: the passage in which she asked Poppea to remember her after becoming empress, a moment that typically goes for nothing, was here very moving. An act as seemingly superfluous as chasing after the banished Ottone with the bag that he carried throughout the opera but left behind when sent into exile was made meaningful by Molomot’s artistry. In this Poppea, the eponymous lady received the crown, but her humble servant won the laurels.

IN REVIEW: bass MATTHEW TREVIÑO as Seneca (center), with (from left to right) tenor NICHOLAS HUFF, baritone NATHANIEL HILL, and soprano NICOLE HEINEN as Seneca's followers, in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]The mortality of morality: bass Matthew Treviño as Seneca (center), with (from left to right) tenor Nicholas Huff, baritone Nathaniel Hill, and soprano Nicole Heinen as Seneca’s followers, in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

Few rôles in works of any era of operatic history are as difficult to cast as that of the august philosopher Seneca in L’incoronazione di Poppea. Ideally, the character should possess the vocal dexterity of Samuel Ramey, the dramatic presence of Martti Talvela, and the histrionic impact of Boris Christoff. This amalgamation of qualities is as impractical as Richard Strauss‘s desire to have for the title rôle in his Salome an adolescent singer with an Isolde voice, but bass Matthew Treviño depicted the man of knowledge with technical assurance, dignity, and imposing vocal resonance. Futilely striving to comfort the wronged Ottavia with platitudes about attaining virtue through suffering, the bass sang ‘Ecco la sconsolata’ commandingly, evincing Seneca’s belief in the precepts that he advocated. There was a palpable sense of solace in Treviño’s voicing of ‘Solitudine amata,’ and this contrasted tellingly with the philosopher’s fraught exchange with Nerone, whose resolution to repudiate Ottavia he denounced as an ethical affront to Rome.

Receiving from Liberto formal communication of the emperor’s lethal pronouncement, an eventuality foretold by his own reasoning, Treviño’s Seneca prepared for death with the tranquility that governed his life. The solemnity with which he intoned ‘Amici, è giunta l’ora’ elicited empathy for the man beneath the philosophical persona, a response heightened by this Seneca’s affectionate farewell to his friends, who seemed not merely to follow his teachings but to care for him. Treviño sang ‘Itene tutti, a prepararmi il bagno’ nobly, relinquishing Seneca’s life to imperial prerogative with a majestic low D. Like all of the characters in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Seneca is not altogether above reproach, but Treviño portrayed him as an honorable man whose principles are not compatible with the treacherous world in which he lives.

IN REVIEW: countertenor NICHOLAS TAMAGNA as Ottone in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]Pensive patrician: countertenor Nicholas Tamagna as Ottone in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

That countertenor Nicholas Tamagna’s beautifully-vocalized and grippingly heartfelt portrayal of Ottone—not the Holy Roman emperor who would later become the hero of Händel’s Ottone, incidentally—often received laughter from the audience is evidence of the perils of projected supertitles. Though undeniably beneficial, not least in minimizing the language barrier as justification for avoiding opera, supertitles often render period-specific conceits in translations that are correct but complicated by modern connotations markedly differ from what librettists sought to convey. From the urgent utterance of ‘E pur io torno qui’ with which he made his entrance to the final note of the part, Tamagna was an Ottone whose inner turmoil was revealed in singing of boundless energy and musicality. The pain of Ottone’s awareness of Poppea’s affair with Nerone coursed through the countertenor’s voicing of ‘Ad altri tocca in sorte,’ and his subsequent colloquies with Poppea imparted the agony of unrequited love.

The anxiety and self-doubt with which Tamagna sang ‘Otton, torna in te stesso’ offered a portal into the character’s soul. The torment of forsaking the past and embracing new realities reverberated in his vocalism and surged through his body language. One of the emotional climaxes of the production was Ottone’s assertion of ‘Drusilla ho in bocca, e ho Poppea nel core,’ enunciated by the singer with radiant tone that accentuated the anguish of Ottone’s predicament. The character found no relief in the scene in which Ottavia ordered him to slay Poppea. Unnerved by the task, this Ottone declaimed ‘Eccomi transformato’ with desperation and self-loathing, feelings that were compounded by guilt when Drusilla was apprehended and accused of his crime. Tamagna gave a subtle performance of Ottone’s confession, his pride broken by misfortune. Monteverdi and Busenello left no hints about whether Ottone can ever be truly happy with Drusilla, but Tamagna’s portrayal inspired the hope that Ottone finds peace.

IN REVIEW: mezzo-soprano KATHERINE PRACHT as Ottavia in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]A woman scorned: mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht as Ottavia in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

The tragic irony of L’incoronazione di Poppea is that the lady who holds the greatest power is least able to use it to her own advantage. It is the empress Ottavia’s sad lot to be the wife of Nerone, an inconstant lover who respects neither laws nor customs. Already cognizant of her husband’s trysting with Poppea, Ottavia roared into the drama with a galvanizing exclamation of ‘Disprezzata regina,’ wielded by mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht, whose singing as Virtù in the Prologue was equally adroit, like a thunderbolt with which she meant to wound her errant husband and his paramour. This Ottavia’s renunciation of Seneca’s praise for her resilience was not unkind, but there was no doubt that she was a woman who expected to be obeyed. There was haughtiness in her demand that Ottone carry out her order to murder Poppea at once, especially in her voicing of ‘Tu che degli avi miei avesti le grandezze,’ but the character’s momentary viciousness was depicted by Pracht as an outward show of internalized humiliation.

In Pracht’s performance, Ottavia’s impassioned farewell to Rome and her rightful position, ‘Addio, Roma,‘ was heartbreaking, her voice cascading through the stumbling, wrenching music with regal poise. The ritualistic eloquence with which she discarded the physical trappings of her status breathed the air of Greek tragedy, Pracht giving her Ottavia an aura of living martyrdom. She inhabited the rôle with the dramatic force of Cathy Berberian and the vocal magnitude of Frances Bible, but her Ottavia was a meticulously-wrought character study enlivened by unstinting vocal beauty. No Fricka taking refuge amongst theorbos, Pracht’s Ottavia was a woman enduring indignity on her own terms, defeated but not destroyed.

IN REVIEW: tenor KARIM SULAYMAN as Nerone, with mezzo-soprano AMANDA CRIDER as Poppea, in Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]Lover without limits: tenor Karim Sulayman as Nerone, with mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider as Poppea, in Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

Recipient of the 2019 GRAMMY® for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album for his Avie disc Songs of Orpheus, tenor Karim Sulayman is a noted exponent of music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The rôle of Nerone in L’incoronazione di Poppea was written in soprano range and first sung by a castrato, but aligning the character’s gender identity with modern sensibilities by allocating the part to tenors remains typical. The register change was far more successful here than in many productions, but Sulayman’s singing intermittently lost impact where it was most needed, primarily at the ends of phrases at the lower extremity of his range. The sensuality of his portrayal was often entrancing, however, and his voice exuded eroticism in his first scene with Poppea. Savagely suave, his Nerone pursued his amorous quarries with the stealth of an inveterate predator. Declaring ‘Son risoluto insomma’ with unapologetic arrogance, the fury that Sulayman’s Nerone expended in dismissing Seneca’s moral arguments was startling.

Manipulated by Poppea’s insinuations that his political power was undermined by his boyhood tutor, Nerone impetuously ordered Seneca’s death, but Sulayman’s depiction of the emperor was enriched by fleeting signs of remorse. The sheer virility of the tenor’s singing of ‘Or che Seneca è morto, cantiam, cantiam Lucano, amorose canzoni’ was exhilarating, his utter immersion in the drama making a scene that might have been crude bizarrely fascinating. His cruelty in punishing first Drusilla and then Ottone for the attempted assassination of Poppea was a product of gnawing uncertainty. Sulayman voiced ‘Ascendi, o mia diletta’ dulcetly, but, here and in the final duet, he was never entirely at ease with Poppea. Something was held back, some element of his psyche that could not be conquered even by a siren as hypnotic as Poppea. Nerone is sometimes portrayed as an amoral sociopath, but Sulayman’s Nerone was more self-indulgent than evil. The dusky patina of his tones added to his dark allure: it was possible to both see and hear why so many moths perished in his flame.

IN REVIEW: mezzo-soprano AMANDA CRIDER in the title rôle of Florentine Opera's March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]En route to the throne: mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider in the title rôle of Florentine Opera’s March 2019 production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Ball Square Films]

Perhaps surprisingly, the title character in L’incoronazione di Poppea is arguably one of the most modern women in opera. Inviolably independent, she weaponizes her femininity in her quest for power and molds men according to her purposes. Nerone is volatile, but Poppea is calculating: her strategizing easily dominates his rashness. Florentine Opera’s Poppea, mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider, wielded beauty and charisma with scheming acumen. In her opening scene with Nerone, the efficacy of every syllable of her ‘Signor, deh non partire’ was carefully considered. Her affection for the emperor may well have been unfeigned, but it was employed as a means to her end. Crider sang ‘Speranza, tu mi vai il genio lusingando’ bewitchingly, her daring increasing as Nerone’s infatuation with her grew more insurmountable. Repeating ‘No, non temo, no, di noia alcuna’ like a mantra, Crider’s Poppea blissfully defied Arnalta’s warnings about the changeability of the emperor’s heart.

Crider tightened Poppea’s grip on Nerone with a tantalizing voicing of ‘Come dolci, signor, come soavi,’ her words targeting his ego as accurately as his libido. In her interview with Ottone, though, there was a glimmer of the woman Poppea was before obsession with winning the imperial crown honed her ruthlessness. The mezzo-soprano sang ‘Chi nasce sfortunato’ with annoyance, but there were passages in which pity for Ottone softened her demeanor. Rejoicing in accomplishing her goal to be empress, this Poppea’s elation shone as resplendently as the gold with which she was adorned. The pulchritude of Crider’s vocalism in the concluding duet with Nerone, ‘Pur ti miro, pur ti godo,’ was spellbinding. One of the production’s most effective contrivances was bringing all of the characters affected by Poppea’s intrigues back onto the stage to witness her coronation, and Poppea’s final encounter with Ottone as he gravitated to her but was supplanted by Nerone just before making contact was emotionally devastating. Crider’s Poppea was deceitful and unscrupulous, but this imaginative artist also disclosed the vulnerability and humanity that make Poppea one of opera’s most engrossing protagonists.

Productions of Seventeenth-Century opera remain infrequent in America. The alternating ariosi and stylized recitatives of Italian operas of this period intimidate some listeners whose principal operatic acquaintance is with later repertory. It is often said that opera without easily-excerpted set-piece arias and large-scaled ensembles is dull and interminable, deserving the quip made about enduring an hour’s worth of music in a Wagner opera and discovering that only a quarter-hour has passed. Time was irrelevant in Florentine Opera’s production of L’incoronazione di Poppea: every character’s drama played out at an organic pace, intersecting in a ruminative but diverting meditation on loyalty, love, and loss. Whether in First-Century Rome, Seventeenth-Century Italy, or Twenty-First-Century Milwaukee, these themes are cornerstones of the human experience. Florentine Opera’s L’incoronazione di Poppea indisputably attested that it is only modern perceptions of Monteverdi’s music that are antiquated.