Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea (1643)

Morality and

Mixed Messages

The Coronation of Poppea  was Monteverdi’s last opera, premiered the year before his death in Venice, after he took religious orders. Poppea includes steamy love scenes, violence and cruelty as well as joy and ecstasy – and highly questionable moral messages of passion versus propriety (enhanced by crossdressing!) More. All the characters are at best amoral, and only the wicked are happy. But the audience knew what happened after the coronation - dramatic irony re- establishes morality. It’s ‘the story of virtue punished and greed rewarded, reminding us that morality means little when the gods are at play.’ (NY Times)

Opera does History

This wonderful piece was the first opera to derive its plot from a historical subject—the Roman emperor Nero’s illicit love for the ambitious courtesan Poppea. Monteverdi’s pervertedly happy ending dodged Poppea’s very unhappy demise.  Poppea was ‘a girl with an eye on the main prize’ – here’s a cheery account of her history.

Characterisation in Music

Gian Francesco Busenello’s libretto brought a new note of realism into opera, particularly in the subtle portrayal of human character, which Monteverdi translated into music with an extraordinary nuance and flexibility of style, depicting a wide range of human emotions. The characters are vivid, and developed during the piece, their stories and voices contrasted. More. Nero has become a splendid challenge for a range of actor-singers from castrati, and now countertenors to lyric tenors and mezzo sopranos, as Opera North discusses.