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The Coronation of Poppea


The Coronation of Poppea  (L'incoronazione di Poppea)

By Claudio Monteverdi

Directed by Joshua Major

University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Timothy Cheek

Sung in Italian with projected English translations

Graphic design by Don Hammond

November 10 - 13, 2005

Power Center

UM School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Opera Theatre


Overview     Press Release     Program     Photos



Poppea relates the historical account of a beautiful courtesan who schemes to become empress of Rome during Nero’s reign. The plot mixes elements of selfishness, greed, and lust into a portrait of humanity’s excess. Our bold new production directed by Joshua Major supports Monteverdi’s music of expressive intensity in depicting vivid characters, even despicable ones.

Claudio Monteverdi was the most significant composer of opera during its formative years in the 17th century. Some of this genius’s works are still in the repertoire today. His last opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642), is considered to be Monteverdi’s supreme masterpiece, a work that combines tragic and comic elements with deep character development. Poppea is also remarkable for the lyricism Monteverdi embeds within the recititives to interpret human nature and emotion. The opera features passionate laments and love arias including the sublimely beautiful final duet, “Pur ti miro.” Rich in subtleties and tragic moments with a perfect balance between words and music, Poppea is an amazing acheivement of composition and characterization for a composer of seventy-four years.


Press Release


ANN ARBOR — The U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Opera Theatre presents the seventeenth-century opera, The Coronation of Poppea (L’incoronazione di Poppea), November 10 at 7:30 PM, November 11 & 12 at 8 PM, and November 13 at 2 PM at the Power Center in Arm Arbor. The production will be sung in Italian with projected English translations. Joshua Major directs and Timothy Cheek conducts members of the University Symphony Orchestra. One of the earliest operas, Poppea is an intimate incursion into a world of political intrigue, sensual excess, and transgressive passion. This production is set in pre-war fascist Italy in the 1930s.

   One of the most important figures in the history of opera as well as in the overall evolution of Western music, Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) wrote Poppea at the age of 75. The opera is considered to be his supreme masterpiece and is one of only three operas of the composer to have survived. While everyone agrees on its status as a musical and dramatic masterpiece, there is widespread disagreement about which parts of Poppea were composed by Monteverdi. Only two posthumously copied manuscripts of the musical score exist, which are slightly incomplete and which do not wholly agree in content.

   The opera is both difficult to sing and transparent in its musical organization.  Some of its unusual features stem from the fact that all seventeenth-century operas call for improvisation — the instrumental parts are only hinted at in the scores and the singers must shape their lines around the text because the notated musical rhythms are only approximate. This form of composition known as "continuo" was standard practice in art music from roughly 1600 to the later 1700s. Additionally, composers typically did not specify continuo instrumentation, but instruments commonly used included members of the lute family, harp, guitar, instruments of the harpsichord and organ families, and bowed-string instruments such as the lirone or viol. "The challenge for the singer is to make sure everything is driven by the words — the thoughts, the actions, and even the music,” states conductor Timothy Cheek. “Monteverdi has created a masterpiece using great words, a vocal line that springs from those words, and a bass line. The rest is up to us — tempo, harmony, pacing, color, ornamentation, and even improvised continuo accompaniment that changes from performance to performance."

   Poppea was the first opera to take up an actual historical subject with flesh-and-blood protagonists rather than characters from Classical mythology or legend. The libretto by the Venetian lawyer Giovanni Francesco Busenello draws from diverse stylistic antecedents. The text is a barely disguised manifesto of the political plots and palace intrigues that were commonplace during Monteverdi’s era.

   Set in the decadent court of the Roman emperor Nero, the opera exposes the corruption and excess of a tyrant who rules by caprice in a weakened republic seething with graft and hypocrisy. Poppea, a beautiful and intelligent courtesan (a prostitute servicing just one highly-placed client) has ensnared and beguiled the Roman emperor, Nero, who plots to repudiate his wife, the empress Octavia, and to reward Poppea’s amorous skill by marrying her and placing her on the throne.  Poppea’s ambition corrupts or exposes all of the other characters in the space of one long day:  Nero’s advisor, the stoic philosopher Seneca, lasciviously enjoys committing suicide; Poppea’s spurned lover, Otho, attempts to murder Poppea and lay the blame on the lowly maidservant, Drusilla; Drusilla lies to protect the object of her own desire, devious Otho; and “noble” empress Octavia blasphemes when she curses the gods, conspires with Otho, and is both pitiable and repugnant in her impotence. The victory of Nero and Poppea demonstrates a defeat of virtue.

   Joining Cheek and Major on the artistic team are two faculty members of the Department of Theatre and Drama. Vincent Mountain, whose designs were last seen in The Hot L Baltimore, designs scenery and Christianne Meyers, whose designs were last seen in Tartuffe, designs costumes. Judith M. Daitsman, who has worked throughout the U.S. and internationally, joins as Lighting Designer.



Click here to view The Coronation of Poppea program.



November 10 & 12, 2005
rabihah m davis
lucretia fleury
Rabihah M Davis
Lucretia Fleury
Nathan brian
Nathan Brian
David Trudgen and Hannah Williams
Lorraine yaros sullivan
David Trudgen and Hannah Williams
Lorraine Yaros Sullivan
Kenneth kellogg
hannah williams and david trudgen
Kenneth Kellogg
Hannah Williams and David Trudgen
Jennifer Trombley and mary Bonhag
Jennifer Trombley and Mary Bonhag
Rebecca eaddy
Brandon Snook and David Trudgen
Rebecca Eaddy
kirsten c kunkle and hannah williams
minnita daniel-cox
Kirsten C Kunkle and Hannah Williams
Minnita Daniel-Cox
rebecca eaddy
david trudgen
Rebecca Eaddy

David Trudgen

kirsten c kunkle
Kirsten C Kunkle
hannah williams and david trudgen
Hannah Williams and David Trudgen
November 11 & 13, 2005
olivia duval
Yun-ju lai
Olivia Duval
Yun-Ju Lai
David Wilson
paul scholten
David Wilson
Paul Scholten
Marlene fullerton
Seth mease carico
Marlene Fullerton
Seth Mease Carico
Reverie Mott Berger
Shawn McDonald
Reverie Mott Berger
Shawn McDonald
Shawn mcdonald and lori celeste hicks
Amanda Kingston and david Wilson
Shawn McDonald and Lori Celeste Hicks
Amanda Kingston and David Wilson
david wilson
David Wilson
kelly bixby and reverie mott berger
Lori celeste hicks
Kelly Bixby

Lori Celeste Hicks

anne gross
amanda kingston
Anne Gross
Amanda Kingston
Elizabeth mitchell
Elizabeth Mitchell



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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower