Claudio Monteverdi: This Early Music feels like jazz. It is very modern

Experiencing the first rehearsal for Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, Sonya Yoncheva was glad that both director Jan Lauwers and conductor William Christie gave her so much freedom. “Just be the way you are! Don’t pretend,” Jan Lauwers said to her, the singer recounts during the Terrace Talk in Salzburg.

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Sonya Yoncheva (Poppea) and Kate Lindsey (Nerone), photo Salzburger Festspiele/Maarten Vanden Abeele

Eroticism, madness, ambition – the palette of emotions portrayed on stage is very broad, says Sonya Yoncheva, who will sing the role of Poppea. “We want to portray these two monsters, Poppea and Nerone, as normal people.” Nerone is sung by Kate Lindsey. It is both her role debut and her first time singing a Monteverdi opera. “Initially, you learn a lot on your own, you delve deeply into this role. It is a fascinating process when the first rehearsals come around and you start interacting. It is immensely enriching when the other performers join in and a metamorphosis begins, a constant development,” the singer says, adding that sparks are definitely flying.

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Sonya Yoncheva and Kate Lindsey, photo SF/Anne Zeuner

She describes the production as a very special one, as it involves dancers from the Needcompany, SEAD and BODHI PROJECT. She has particularly enjoyed the daily joint warm-ups with the dancers: “We sweat together, we get dirty, moving together on stage, and initially that was slightly awkward for us singers, because we are not used to it,” she says. In the meantime, however, she loves the warm-ups.

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Carlo Vistoli (Ottone) and Stephanie d’Oustrac (Ottavia), Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

Sonya Yoncheva is equally enthusiastic about working with the dancers: “The physicality of this staging also lends us singers an intensity we need on stage. It is about bodies, lust, desire, love and death. I often feel an urge to lie down with the dancers on the floor, to dance with them or make love to them.” Sonya Yoncheva describes it as a luxury for any singer to be able to express themselves in so many colours. Even in silences, even in the rests of this opera, she discovers theatrical elements.

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L’incoronazione di Poppea, photo Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

Novel and fresh – that is how Kate Lindsey describes the sound of William Christie playing Early Music. She too feels that this repertoire offers opportunities for different vocal colours to be displayed. Often, the point is not to produce beautiful notes; instead somewhat shriller, almost awful tones are called for. She recounts a rehearsal in which Christie told them to tell the story, not to sing it. Sonya Yoncheva agrees with him: “We singers must be story-tellers too. That is the challenge, after all: people must believe us! I am always very involved in my roles. For the next four weeks, I am Poppea! We want to take the audience with us – they should love us and hate us.”

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Sonya Yoncheva and Kate Lindsey, photo SF/Anne Zeuner

Claudio Monteverdi L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Creative Team:

William Christie, Conductor

Jan Lauwers, Direction, sets and choreography

Lemm&Barkey, Costumes

Ken Hioco, Lighting

Elke Janssens, Dramaturgy

Cast:

Sonya Yoncheva (Poppea)

Kate Lindsey (Nerone)

Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Ottavia)

Carlo Vistoli (Ottone)

Renato Dolcini (Seneca)

Ana Quintans (Virtù / Drusilla)

Marcel Beekman (Nutrice / Famigliare)

Dominique Visse (Arnalta)

Lea Desandre (Amore / Valletto)

Tamara Banjesevic (Fortuna / Damigella)

Claire Debono (Pallade / Venere)

Alessandro Fisher (Lucano / Soldato I / Tribuno / Famigliare II)

Davic Webb ( Liberto / Soldato II / Tribuno)

Padraic Rowan ( Littore / Console I / Famigliare III)

Virgile Ancely (Mercurio / Console II)

Needcompany

Sarah LutzSolo dancer
Dancers of BODHI PROJECT and SEAD Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance
Paul Blackman (Jukstapoz), Choreographic assistance and preparation

Les Arts Florissants

Haus für Mozart: 12, 15, 18, 20, 22, 28 August

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L’incoronazione di Poppea, photo Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

Kate Lindsey says that the greatest vocal challenge for her is to find that very balance between vocalism and drama. Nerone is a complex man – a pervert who one loves to hate and hates to love. To transfer these ambivalent feelings to the voice is a great challenge. The opera’s final duet, for example, is alive with love and beauty, yet also full of darkness and gloom. Above all, Sonya Yoncheva loves the dissonances in the music: “It is very special how our voices blend here. This Early Music feels like jazz. It is very modern,” the Bulgarian singer says.

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Ana Quintans (Virtu/Drusilla), photo Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

When she was younger, she viewed the role of Poppea differently than today, Sonya Yoncheva explains. “I was very quick to condemn Poppea in the past. When one is young, one believes in human values – and I still believe in them today, but in the meantime I have understood the game these two are playing,” she says, adding that Poppea and Nerone are like two children unwilling to face up to the extent of their powers, leading them to extreme exaggeration. “Poppea is already bored, no sooner than she has been crowned queen.” Today, Yoncheva declares, she no longer feels that it is her place to judge.

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Carlo Vistoli (Ottone), Sonya Yoncheva (Poppea), Dominique Visse (Arnalta), photo Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

Does she consider herself a star? – No, she explains. “It is hard to escape this system of stars, and I find it interesting to see how each of us comes to terms with it,” Sonya Yoncheva says. “For my part, I try to keep my feet firmly on the ground, to go through life well-grounded, and to remain true to myself.” In the first place, she became a singer for the love of music – and perhaps, in second place, she might be a star. (After Press Release)

About the Production

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) wrote the sensual love story L’incoronazione di Poppea, one of the most remarkable of all operas, just before his death. It was the first opera to be based on historical events rather than myth, legend or fiction (as had been the custom during the Renaissance). Like his contemporary, William Shakespeare, Monteverdi portrayed credible characters driven by human failings. To achieve this, he developed, among other things, the seconda pratica, where the music was pared down and guided by the libretto. The story and the emotions came to the fore.

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Kate Lindsey (Nerone), photo Rosetta Greek

Operas are about the meaning of love and life, and also very much about the meaning of death. In L’incoronazione di Poppea, Monteverdi presented a highly personal view of this principle. Although the libretto was inspired by historical figures and events, in the opera, horrible reality fades into the background to make way for sensual passion and elated triumph in a society that has lost sight of morality, where virtue is punished and avarice rewarded with the apparent triumph of love. The libretto, written by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, tells how Poppea uses everything in her power to ascend to the throne and become the wife of Emperor Nerone. Empress Ottavia is deceived and pushed aside; Poppea urges Nerone to force Seneca to commit suicide; Ottone is banished after the attempted murder of Poppea; and Ottavia is put at the mercy of the sea when the conspiracy to murder Poppea is exposed. The story ends with Poppea’s coronation as Nerone’s empress. Everything yields to Poppea’s lust for the throne.

 

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Jan Lauwers, Direction, sets and choreography, photo Salzburger Festspiele /Anne Zeunrer

History showed us the appalling sequel. Nero was no beginner as a murderous ruler. He had already killed his mother. And not long after Poppaea was crowned, Nero kicked her in the stomach and killed the child she was carrying, after which Poppaea died from her injuries. Nero’s fate was a forced suicide and Otho, whom Nero had banished, took power not long afterwards.

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Renato Dolcini (Seneca) and William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, Salzburger Festspiele / Maarten Vanden Abeele

Monteverdi holds a mirror up to his contemporaries in the form of an immoral story about tyranny and intrigue, concealed behind the most beautiful forms of Baroque music. He staged a tale that could only be set in a degenerate society, not in a civilized one. In Jan Lauwers’s interpretation, the mirror has become reality. At a time when excess and identity crises have gained the upper hand, a time when just about everything has become accessible, reason has been lost. Since the Enlightenment – the Age of Reason – God has been declared dead; the gods have lost their status.

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Sonya Yonceva (Poppea), photo Dario Acosta 

Jan Lauwers, who founded Needcompany together with Grace Ellen Barkey more than 30 years ago, is internationally renowned for his auteur theatre work. He is now transferring his unique approach to opera, in which text, movement, visual art and music are each given an autonomous role. In Lauwers’s setting for L’incoronazione di Poppea, the gods do penance like cripples and the protagonists literally walk on the bodies of their sins, their deeds, their killing. The obsession with power, intrigue, cruelty, violence and manipulation triumphs on a background full of Baroque beauty.
The collaboration between Jan Lauwers & Needcompany and William Christie & Les Arts Florissants is based on a central focus on the human body and the presence of the singers. For years, Baroque specialist William Christie has been familiar with L’incoronazione di Poppea. ‘By showing the triumph of cynicism and evil’, Christie says, ‘L’incoronazione di Poppeareflects the contradictions and the fragility of the human soul in a disturbing yet fascinating fashion. To me, the emotion springs directly from Monteverdi’s score. To convey it to today’s audiences, our first concern is to respect the music as it was written by the composer.’

Elke Janssens

 

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