L’Incoronazione di Poppea review – Gardiner honours the genius of Monteverdi

Colston Hall, Bristol
Impressive playing by the English Baroque Soloists and standout performers including Kangmin Justin Kim make a memorable semi-staging

It’s not simply the ravishingly beautiful music that makes the experience of John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi 450 project so involving: the frisson of this episode in the life of the tyrannical Roman emperor Nero, as told by 17th century Venetians, is that L’Incoronazione di Poppea – with its tangled machinations of power and lust – feels so wholly, uncannily, contemporary.

His countertenor defies belief … Kangmin Justin Kim and Hana Blažíková in L’Incoronazione di Poppea.
His countertenor defies belief … Kangmin Justin Kim and Hana Blažíková in L’Incoronazione di Poppea. Photograph: Colston Hall ©ShotAway

For his celebration of the 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth, Gardiner has assembled a touring ensemble of remarkable quality, with a standout performance here from Korean-American Kangmin Justin Kim, as Nerone. His countertenor often defies belief with an elegant tone, instrumental agility and nuanced expressive colouring. It’s a sound to die for and Poppea will, though not in this opera. The ecstatic intertwining of Hana Blažíková’s soprano – all refinement and wholly idiomatic musical style – in Nerone and Poppea’s duets produced the most sublime moments, the intimacy of the English Baroque Soloists’ accompaniment judged to perfection. That Blažíková failed to embody Poppea’s manipulative ambition and ego was a drawback, but that is to carp. Bass Gianluca Buratto’s Seneca was excellent, while Marianna Pizzolato’s big mezzo made her a credibly vengeful Ottavia.

Gardiner’s musical characterisation and Elsa Rooke’s semi-staging brought great clarity to the hierarchy of lovers and their relationships, highlighting the servants’ delicious undercurrent of satire. The genius of Monteverdi could not be better honoured.

• At Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 17 August. Box office: 0131-228 1155.


Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner – review

John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir celebrated their 50th anniversary with a glorious – if perhaps too manicured – period performance of the Vespers of 1610, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

06, Mar, 2014 @2:18 PM

Monteverdi Choir/EBS/Gardiner – review
This concert marked the release of the last disc in John Eliot Gardiner's ambitious Bach Cantata Pilgrimage – and it showed the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists remain at the top of this game, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

14, Dec, 2010 @10:15 PM

Article image
L'Orfeo review – magical and memorable Monteverdi
Under John Eliot Gardiner and his exceptional group of musicians, every element in Monteverdi’s 1607 music drama was perfectly scaled and projected

Andrew Clements

29, May, 2017 @1:01 PM

Article image
Prom 54: ORR/Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner review – the demands of Missa Solemnis were thrillingly met

John Eliot Gardiner brought tremendous force to Beethoven's massive work, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

27, Aug, 2014 @3:34 PM

LSO/Gardiner – review

The Oedipus Rex was thrilling in this all-Stravinsky concert, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

26, Apr, 2013 @4:56 PM

ORR/John Eliot Gardiner – review

Former radical John Eliot Gardiner was better conducting Beethoven's Seventh than the Fourth, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

10, Nov, 2011 @7:00 PM

Article image
English Baroque Soloists/Gardiner review – revitalised Mozart
The immense skill of Mozart’s writing for wind, horn and violins was to the fore in EBS’s serene, precise performances of the composer’s last three symphonies

Rian Evans

18, Jan, 2016 @3:19 PM

Article image
ORR/Gardiner review – exhilarating 25th-anniversary celebration
Celebrating a quarter-century of sprucing up the 19th-century repertoire, John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique showed their mettle with Beethoven and Berlioz, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

09, Nov, 2014 @11:56 AM

Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner – review
Virtuosic both compositionally and in the demands they make on performers, this sequence comprises a compendium of technical skills that display Bach's astonishing range, writes George Hall

George Hall

05, Oct, 2011 @6:00 PM

Monteverdi Choir/ORR/Gardiner – review

The second wondrous Barbican performance of the Missa Solemnis this year proves there are many roads to Beethoven, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

18, Oct, 2012 @4:49 PM