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Trail: Poppea


Quoth SongBook

L’Incoronazione di Poppea


The story, roughly, is that of the emperor Nero who wants to divorce his
wife Octavia to marry the (ambitious and dissolute, but so bewitching) Poppea.
He eventually succeeds, after a lot of intrigue on the part of many characters.
In the final scene, in front of the whole Imperial Court, Poppea is
crowned Empress of the World. the final number is a love duet between Nero
and Poppea. It is stunning, to me, to see the two lovers unabashedly
engaging in near-foreplay, in front of the whole court. Not only is the
ending of the opera immoral (the wicked triumph over the innocent), but
said wicked have to belabor the point with this incredible duet. The text
follows, from memory (pardon the inaccuracies and errors in translation):

 Pur ti miro, pur ti godo,       I behold you, I rejoice in you,
 pur ti stringo, pur t'annodo,   I embrace you, I chain you,
 piu non peno, non moro,         I suffer no more, I die no more,
 o mia vita, o mio tesoro.       O my life, o my treasure.
 Io son tua, tuo son io,         I am yours, yours I am,
 speme mia, dillo di,            O my hope, say it, say
 pur ti sei l'idol mio,          Truly you are my idol,
 o mio ben, o mio caro,          O my sweet, o my dear,
 o mia vita, si, si, si, si.     O my life, yes, yes, yes.

This is not a pompous love declaration: those are the murmured words of two
lovers, exaggerated, repetitive, obsessive. Both voices, in the Harnoncourt
recording, are sopranos (Nero was a castrato role). As a result, they are
perfectly symmetric, as the text is between the two characters, and very
disturbingly erotic: the two voices mirror each other, dance around each
other, grope for each other, like two hands searching each other in the dark.
They are accompanied by the orchestra, but in particular two recorders who
insinuate themselves among the lovers and caress their intertwined voices,
egging them on, hovering around them like little impish Cupids in some Mars
and Venus painting by Veronese. (Harnoncourt, in the notes, says explicitly
that he used the recorders for the more “erotic” parts of the opera). The
two singers, BTW, are Helen Donath and Elisabeth Soderstrom.