L'incoronazione di Poppea
, Act I, Scene 3
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 4 Tracks 16-20
Claudio knew drama. This scene makes a good trailer for his opera. We do not learn too much about the plot. Just enough to surmise that in an ancient world of power and gossip two lovers fuel the envy of others. Although it is vital to establish their affection, this scene is far from the climax of the work. And yet Monteverdi's detailed and varied vocal lines offer a bounty of emotional music.
As Nero, sans violin, and Poppea speed through the dialogue the listener encounters a range of expression and vocal technique that is enough to make the future German expressionists as envious as Ottavia (who's unhappy fate in a hot bath would have served a 1920's stage well). The speed of this scene is accomplished by the development in vocal technique. Starting with the Renaissance equivalent of Sprechstimme
, the two lovers run from recitative through aria toward high virtuosity.
What I like about this excerpt is that moment of high virtuosity. The upward thrust of Nero's impressive melisma is brought to a halt by the downward motion of a tritone. In the devil's voice this interval has the sweetness of the Mediterranean.
Read also a synopsis
of this opera.