Fine Raw Poppea at the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires

ArgentinaArgentina Monteverdi, L’incoronazione di Poppea: Soloists, Orchestra Compañía de las Luces / Marcelo Birman (conductor). Teatro Coliseo, Buenos Aires. 20.4.2017. (JSJ)

L'incoronazione di Poppea_6968A
Martín Oro (Ottone), Cecilia Pastawski (Poppea) & Gloria Rojas (Arnalta)
in Buenos Aires Lírica’s L´incoronazione di Poppea (c) Liliana Morsia


Poppea Cecilia Pastawski
Nerone Santiago Bürgi
Seneca Iván García
Ottone Martín Oro
Ottavia Luisa Francesconi
Drusilla/Fortuna Victoria Gaeta
Arnalta Gloria Rojas
Cupid Adriano D´Alchimio
Virtue Rocío Arbizu
Soldier/Friend/Valet/Tribune Josué Miranda
Soldier/Friend/Lucano/Tribune Agustín Gómez
Liberto/Littore Mariano Fernández Bustinza
Tribune Juan Pablo Labourdette


Director Marcelo Lombardero
Sets Daniel Feijóo
Costumes Luciana Gutman
Lighting: Horacio Efron
Choreography Ignacio González Cano

In its 15th year Buenos Aires Lírica is offering a programme somewhat different from its usual five – and in recent years – four operas. Still four operas are in the programme – in addition to the current one under review, Rossini’s La scala di seta (in June/July), La bohème (Aug.) and Offenbach’s Ba-Ta-Clan (strictly operetta, Oct./Nov.). But in addition, there is a concert production, comprising Beethoven’s Egmont and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (June) – and different venues are used alongside the traditional Teatro Avenida, including the Picadero (used for the first time for the ‘fusion’ Agrippina last year).

The first production of the year, L´incoronazione di Poppea, also marks something of a departure from the usual, being a joint production with Nuova Harmonia and presented at that company’s ‘home’, the Teatro Coliseo.

L´incoronazione di Poppea is the last opera of Monteverdi – although how much is actually attributable to him is an open question – and its production now marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of this ‘father of opera’.

This is not the first time that Buenos Aires Lírica has offered the work, having appeared in its 2006 season. But this is a new production and director Marcelo Lombardero, with sets and costumes to match, presents a modern but almost timeless and placeless feel – certainly not that of the 1st century Rome in which it is set.

The work, which was first performed in 1643, broadly covers the rise of the ambitious Poppea, as mistress of the emperor Nerone, to be crowned the empress. Lombardero, in an interview in Cantabile magazine, outlines the work as “of power and desire” and “explicitly sexual” and his this is how he presents it – albeit quite tastefully though, but with no doubt or ambiguity of the underlying tensions.

It all works well and as perhaps Lombardero alludes with his “open conception”, the action may be set two millennia ago, but the human behaviour of today is unchanged.

The cast, a veritable selection of Latin American singers, were equally balanced and all did full justice to the work. In the title role Cecilia Pastawski was clearly calculating, warm but aloof, with Santiago Bürgi as Nerone alternating his moods in what is arguably his best performance to date.

Venezuelan Iván García with firm bass gave dignity to the character of the philosopher Seneca, Nerone’s tutor, his slitting his wrists a dramatic high point, and Martín Oro amply expressed the emotions of the nobleman Ottone in love with but losing Poppea.

There were strong performances too from Brazilian mezzo Luisa Francesconi as the reigning empress Ottavia, Chilean Gloria Rojas as Poppea’s confidant Arnalta, and Victoria Gaeta as the lady of court Drusilla and in the prologue, the goddess of fortune.

The orchestra Compañía de las Luces under Marcelo Birman is focussed on music from the 17th and 18th centuries. With the almost 30 strong forces of an orchestra and continuo, the work that had gone into preparation was apparent.

The rawness of the production may not be too everybody’s taste but then is any production…

Jonathan Spencer Jones

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