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Incoronazione di Poppea 2017Edinburgh International Festival

Read more about the opera Coronation of Poppea

Poppea draws a magnificent trilogy to a close

2017 being the 70th year of the Edinburgh Festival, the opera programme was a celebratory one with a distinctly expanded line-up of nine works. The 450th anniversary of Monteverdi's birth was celebrated with a trilogy of concerts in which John Eliot Gardiner conducted L'OrfeoIl ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea, seen together in Edinburgh for the first time since 1978.

There were three further events, not part of the opera programme, but which should be highlighted. No Festival visit is complete without enjoying a morning concert at the Queen's Hall. Here there was a prelude to the Monteverdi event in the form of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in a recently discovered transcription by Heinrich Schütz. The gloriously dramatic Damnation of Faust by Berlioz was performed by Mark Elder and the Hallé, while the Festival continued its exploration of rare Elgar with a revival of the cantata King Olaf.

The Monteverdi 450 cycle of his three full length operas was a complete triumph for all involved, especially for John Eliot Gardiner, who, in many Edinburgh appearances over the years, can surely have done nothing better. As with the preceding performances of Orfeo and Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Poppea could hardly be called a concert performance, such was the level of intensity and visual panache with which this masterpiece was projected into the Usher Hall. The gain from seeing the three works in sequence is immeasurable. There is little doubt that as a grouping they can be ranked alongside such combinations as the Mozart-da Ponte trio, Verdi's middle-period masterpieces and Wagner's Ring.

Last seen in such a grouping in Edinburgh in 1979, this presentation of these works was far superior, enjoyable as it was, because there was such a finely calculated balance between the various elements. The absence of settings was compensated for by clever use of the Usher Hall stage and organ gallery with particularly sensitive and imaginative lighting.

It is difficult to distinguish between the cast members and allocate praise when the ensemble worked together so consistently, playing a range of contrasting roles over the week. For instance the superb baritone Furio Zanasi was Ulisse on Tuesday, having sung Apollo on Monday. Here he contributed two short parts - a soldier at the start and the freedman near the end. Between those he could be seen making up the numbers among Seneca's household urging him against suicide.

Tuesday's Penelope, Lucile Richardot, who might have been expected to portray the Empress Ottavia, another forlorn character, instead thoroughly enjoyed herself as the comic nurse Arnalta, very much on the make, and cheerfully anticipating the glories to come. By contrast, the Empress was sung in majestic style by Marianna Pizzolato, who had not appeared on either of the previous evenings.

Gianluca Buratto was in glorious form as Seneca, with his beautifully resonant lower register sounding quite effortless. Carlo Vistoli and Anna Dennis made much of their roles - clearly out of their depth delving into imperial politics, while the below-stairs lovers, pageboy and maidservant, had much more fun. Zachary Wilder, another performer busy in each of the three evenings, here made much of the poet Lucan, while Michal Czerniawski played Ottavia's old nurse in panto-dame style - a tradition that Italian baroque opera seems almost to have invented.

The lead couple were also notable - Kangmin Justin Kim had no problems with the high range of Nero's part, which has only been sung at the correct pitch by male singers in recent years - in 1979 Nero was a tenor, and in the last run at the Conservatoire in Glasgow 'he' was a mezzo (our recently appointed Cardiff Singer of the World as it happens). Hana Blažiková was just as effective playing Poppea as she had been as Euridice and Minerva on previous evenings - again adding Fortune as an appropriate role in the prologue for good measure. They were particularly impressive in their final scene, with the emperor crowning his new empress up in the organ gallery before they made their separate ways down to the front stage, to sing their rapturous duet as the lights faded.

Performance Cast

Fortuna Goddess of Fortune

Hana Blažiková

Amore Cupid

Silvia Frigato

Virtù Goddess of Virtue

Anna Dennis

Ottone Otto, former lover of Poppea

Carlo Vistoli

First Soldier of Nero's bodyguard

Furio Zanasi

Second Soldier of Nero's bodyguard

Robert Burt

Poppea Nero's mistress

Hana Blažiková

Nerone Nero, Emperor of Rome

Kangmin Justin Kim

Ottavia Octavia, Empress, Nero's wife

Marianna Pizzolato

Seneca a philosopher, Nero's former tutor

Gianluca Buratto

Drusilla Otto's lover

Anna Dennis

Nutrice Octavia's nurse

Michal Czerniawski

Arnalta Poppea's nurse

Lucile Richardot

Mercurio Mercury, messenger of the Gods

John Taylor Ward

Valletto page in Octavia's household

Silvia Frigato

Damigella maidservant in Octavia's household

Francesca Boncompagni

Lucano Lucan, a poet

Zachary Wilder

Liberto a freedman (former slave)

Furio Zanasi

Venere Venus, goddess of love

Lucile Richardot

Littore Lictor

John Taylor Ward

Performance DatesIncoronazione di Poppea 2017

Map List

Usher Hall | Edinburgh

17 Aug, 19.00

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