The Coronation of Poppea - Bruno Ravella
Robert Carsen’s production of The Coronation of Poppea delighted Glyndebourne audiences when it was seen at the Festival in 2008. The revival director Bruno Ravella is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the delight continues on tour, but he does not see his job as simply providing an exact replica of Carsen’s work: "I try to be as faithful as possible to the original staging, but I aim to be true to the ideas and motivations rather than the specific moves. Productions are created with individual singers in a collaborative manner, and what is expressed a certain way by one performer may need to be altered in order to express the same motivation by a singer with a different physique or energy. In some cases, changes may need to be even more drastic. As an example, in this production the role of Arnalta, Poppea’s nurse, was originally sung by a man; we now have Jean Rigby singing the role, so the character and humour will need refocusing, and the last scene may even need complete restaging."
Although we talk about ‘Monteverdi’s Poppea’, many scholars believe that other composers were involved in the opera’s composition. Some go as far as to say that nothing of Poppea (at least as it has come down to us) is by Monteverdi. Ravella knows the arguments, but in the end comes down firmly on the side of Monteverdi’s authorship: "There are two available scores of Poppea, one from Venice, the other from Naples, and it seems they were copied after Monteverdi’s death. They vary greatly, are very basic, and nothing we have is in Monteverdi’s own hands. That leads some musicologists to believe it was perhaps written jointly with other composers, possibly including Francesco Cavalli and Benedetto Ferrari. I tend to believe it was all written by Monteverdi: the incredible craft of the music and the breadth of emotions it encompasses lead me to believe that this really could be the work of a 75-year-old. The only exception possibly could be the famous closing duet, “Pur ti miro”, for no reason other than that it just “feels” different."
Whoever composed the music, Poppea is, in Ravella’s view, one of the greatest of all operas, not least in its almost Shakespearian blend of dramatic genres: "Giovanni Francesco Busenello’s libretto is well balanced to cope with the demands of the paying Venetian public for which it was written. Mixing tragic and comic elements, gossip and drama, it is rich, complex, cynical and modern. There are many characters, major and minor, from gods to servants, and every human emotion is expressed: love, lust, ambition, thirst for power and status, and for happiness, all entangled in a web of plotting, murder, hypocrisy, gossip and sex. Starting with this perfect 'play', Monteverdi develops a musical world where harmony and poetry are in perfect fusion. The music doesn’t follow a set harmonic path, but instead seems to follow psychological or moral paths, through harmony. It’s exhilarating, and a joy to explore."
Words: Nick Kimberley