[ Erato / Warner Classics DVD / 2 DVD ]
Release Date: Friday 14 June 2013
Sonya Yoncheva (Poppée)
Max Emanuel Cencic (Néron)
Ann Hallenberg (Octavie)
Tim Mead (Othon)
Paul Whelan (Sénèque)
Amel Brahim-Djelloul (Drusilla)
Le Concert d'Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm (conductor)
Jean-François Sivadier (stage director)
One Roman emperor is not enough for conductor Emmanuelle Haïm. After Julius Caesar in Handel's opera -recorded for Virgin Classics DVD at Paris' Palais Garnier with Lawrence Zazzo as Giulio Cesare and Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra - she now brings a ruler of less illustrious reputation: Nero (Nerone) in Monteverdi's sensuous and cruel story of love, ambition and politics, L'incoronazione di Poppea.
This production, recorded in 2012 at the exquisite opera house in Lille, is by the French director Jean-François Sivadier; he was also responsible for La traviata in 2011 at Aix-en-Provence, a staging which starred Natalie Dessay and can be seen on a Virgin Classics DVD.
In Poppea, Sivadier takes a relatively minimalist approach, with the characters in an eclectic mixture of modern and Ancient Roman dress. Nerone, here an almost punk-like figure, with peroxide blond spiky hair, is portrayed by star countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic, who has recently enjoyed major successes with his Virgin Classics recordings of Vinci's rare opera Artaserse and a recital programme Venezia. Cencic has already appeared on a Virgin Classics DVD of Poppea, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm's mentor William Christie, recorded in Madrid and released in 2012, but there he played Poppea's discarded lover, Ottone, a role taken in Lille by British countertenor Tim Mead. Poppea herself is sung here by the glamorous Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who won Plácido Domingo's Operalia competition in 2010 and is a former member of William Christie's academy for young singers, Le Jardin des Voix.
"[Haim leads with] a fine sensitivity towards the urgent, tensile springiness of the melodic lines; and a superb handling of the instrumental forces...The title role here is taken by the suitably voluptuous Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva who has admirable technique and tone" (BBC Music)
"Cencic has the range to bash out Nerone's highest notes, and the occasional histrionic high passages and over-the-top delivery suit Nerone's brattish character. Ann Hallenberg's jilted Ottavia and Tim Mead's Ottone...are vocally and dramatically outstanding." (Gramophone)
"The play-within-a-play a la Brecht eventually recedes and the opera turns specifically into itself, up until very near the end...[Cencic] is one dangerous, hyperactive, dishevelled Emperor...[Haim's] way of colouring a scene rarely fails her." (International Record Review)