1. A premiere for carnevale
The Coronation of Poppea was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1643 carnival season, but the precise date of the premiere is unknown. This makes the piece one of the earliest ever operas, premiered at the dawn of opera as a dramatic genre.
2. No original manuscript
Unlike most operas performed today, the original manuscript of the score does not exist. There are two surviving copies dating from around ten years after the piece was first performed, but there had been so much adaptation and evolution even by then, that both these copies are very different from each other. Therefore how much of the music is Monteverdi's, and how much the product of others, is disputed.
3. Immorality tales
The Coronation of Poppea is a story of inverse morality, in which virtue is punished and greed is rewarded. During the opera, Poppea and Nero’s adulterous relationship is able to triumph over everyone who stands in their way, via murder, deception and exile. However, the original audience would have recognised from their knowledge of Roman history that this apparently triumphant love was, in reality, hollow, as not long after this event Nero killed his pregnant wife Poppea, and later committed suicide himself. Poppea is one of the first ever operas to be based on real historical events and people, using Tacitus, Suetonius, and other Roman historians as its sources.
4. No prescribed voice types
The role of Nero was originally sung by a male soprano (probably a castrato). In 1643, at the time of Monteverdi, this practise was not yet illegal and castratos were considered to be operatic superstars, with a very wide range and extraordinarily flexible voices. Today, as there is no score of Poppea to specify which role is sung by which voice type, opera directors are free to decide for themselves which voice type they want to assign to each role. Our Nero is sung by countertenor James Laing. Below, our director on The Coronation of Poppea, Tim Albery, explains his vision for the show.
5. Pur ti miro
The final duet of The Coronation of Poppea 'Pur ti miro, pur ti godo' is considered today to be one of the most beautiful love duets ever written, and has been performed and recorded by a wide variety of artists. Translating as ‘I gaze at you, I possess you’, this is the moment when Nero is finally able to make Poppea his bride and Empress, and together they celebrate their victory and love for each other. On Friday 3rd & Saturday 4th October, a selection of singers of all different voice types will each be performing Pur ti miro as part of our Light Night celebrations in the Howard Assembly Room. Find out more here.
To find out more and to puchase tickets for The Coronation of Poppea, please visit the webpage.
Poppea Sabina, artist unknown, 16th-century
Lovers at the Venice Carnival, 2010
Monteverdi by Bernado Strozzi, c.1640
Busts of Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius
Philippe Jaroussky and Danielle De Niese at Teatro Real, Madrid, 2010