Incoronazione di Poppea, L’ (The Coronation of Poppaea)
  • Claudio Monteverdi. Dramma musicale in a prologue and three acts. 1643.
  • Libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, based on the Annales of Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius and thepseudo-Senecan Octavia.
  • First performance at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, in 1643.
CHARACTERS
La Fortuna (Fortune) soprano
La Virtù (Virtue) soprano
Amore (Cupid) soprano
Nerone (Nero), Emperor of Rome male soprano
Poppea (Poppaea) soprano
Ottavia (Octavia), Empress of Rome soprano
Ottone (Otho) male alto
Drusilla, a lady of the court soprano
Seneca, a philosopher, Nero’s tutor bass
Arnalta, old nurse & confidante of Poppea male alto
Nutrice (Nurse), nurse of Ottavia male alto
Lucano, poet, friend of Nero, nephew of Seneca tenor
Valletto, page of the Empress male(?) soprano
Damigella, lady-in-waiting to the Empress soprano
Liberto, Captain of the Praetorian Guard tenor
Two Soldiers of the Praetorian Guard tenors
Littore (Lictor) bass
Pallade (Pallas), goddess of wisdom soprano
Mercurio (Mercury), messenger of the gods bass
Venere (Venus) soprano

In the prologue Fortune, Virtue and Cupid argue about their respective powers. Love sets out to demonstrate his supremacy, in what follows. In the street outside Poppaea’s house, Otho complains at her infidelity. He was her lover, but now she is sleeping within with Nero, the Emperor, while his two soldiers guard the house. The couple emerge, as dawn breaks, and sing of their love. With her nurse Arnalta Poppaea reveals her ambition to become Empress, while elsewhere Octavia, Empress, wife of Nero, and of the imperial family of Augustus, laments her husband’s desertion. Seneca tries to comfort her, mocked by her page, and is warned by Pallas Athene of his coming death. Nevertheless he dares to advise his old pupil, Nero, that he should not cast aside Octavia. Nero insists that he will go his own way. Otho overhears Nero and Poppaea, he promising to make her Empress and she urging the discarding of Seneca, whose death Nero now orders. Otho is definitively rejected by Poppaea and, meeting Drusilla, who loves him, promises fidelity to her. The sentence of death is brought to Seneca, who parts philosophically from his followers, before leaving to take his life in traditional Roman fashion. On the news of his death, Nero and his dissolute friend Lucan, make merry. Octavia tells Otho he must kill Poppaea and he borrows Drusilla’s clothes as a disguise. His attempt to kill Poppaea as she sleeps is frustrated by the direct intervention of Cupid. Poppaea wakes and sees one she believes to be Drusilla escaping. The old nurse Arnalta raises the alarm. Arrested, Drusilla tries to shield Otho, but Otho confesses, blaming Octavia, who can now with some justification be sent into exile. Octavia bids a sad farewell to Rome, Arnalta comments on the success of her mistress and Nero and Poppaea celebrate their love and the coronation of the latter as Empress.

Monteverdi’s last opera ends with one of the most effective of all love duets, the haunting Pur ti miro, pur ti godo (I gaze on you, I delight in you). Of the many riches of a work of particular splendour mention should be made of Seneca’s death scene, Amici è giunta l’hora (Friends, the hour is at hand), and the pleading of his followers Non morir Seneca, no (Do not die, Seneca, no), Nero and Lucan’s rejoicing at his death, Hor che Seneca è morto / cantiam, cantiam, Lucano (Now that Seneca is dead / Let us sing, let us sing, Lucan), and Arnalta’s sound if comic advice to her mistress, Ben sei pazza, se credi / che ti possano far contenta, e salva / un garzon cieco, et una donna calva (You are a fool if you think / that they can make you happy and safe / a blind boy and a bald woman). There are also notable scenes for Octavia, in particular her first-act Disprezzata Regina (Queen humiliated) and her farewell to Rome, A Dio, Roma, a Dio patria, amici a Dio (Farewell Rome, farewell my country, farewell friends), with its verbal echoes of the earlier parting of the lovers Nero and Poppaea, after a night together.