The Catholic University of America

Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea: The Poppea Project

Andrew H. Weaver

 

This course offers an exciting opportunity to be part of the creative force behind a production of one of the most magnificent operas of the seventeenth century, Monteverdi’s final opera L’incoronazione di Poppea. The course is directly tied into a production of the opera by the CUA Opera Theater, which will occur on April 17-19; the class meetings, conducted by Dr. Weaver with the assistance of Rachel Barham (co-director of the production), will directly impact what happens on stage in the production.

 
One of the most vexing issues facing anybody who wishes to perform this opera today is that of authenticity; a huge variety of musical and textual sources for this opera have survived, including ten different libretti (only one of which can be definitively connected to the original production) and two scores (both of which were copied after Monteverdi’s death and neither of which is connected to the original production). The first half of this course will be spent engaging with original sources in order to create the performance edition that will be used for our production. The goal will be not to unearth Monteverdi’s intentions or to recreate the exact version performed in the seventeenth century, but to craft a workable version of the opera that best presents the important messages and meaning of the opera.
 
The issue of meaning, however, is another vexing yet fascinating aspect of this opera. What are modern performers to make of a work in which the virtuous characters suffer, the wicked characters win out in the end, and corruption and unchecked passion seem to reign supreme? The second half of the course will explore this issue by focusing on the characters of the opera, reviewing recent research and exploring individual scenes in depth to determine how these characters should be presented on the stage in order to convey a coherent message to the audience. There will also be guest lectures by prominent scholars of seventeenth-century Italian opera, including Ellen Rosand, Professor of Music at Yale University and author of Monteverdi’s Last Operas: A Venetian Trilogy (2007); Tim Carter, David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre (2002); and Wendy Heller, Professor of Music at Princeton University and author of Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice (2003).
 
 

Class meetings will be conducted primarily as discussion, with frequent student presentations. Final projects will vary depending on the student. Some students may choose to write an independent research paper, while others, such as cast and crew members, may have final projects deriving from their involvement in the production (including performance practice issues); others may choose to write a take-home final exam. Some final projects may also involve independent preparation of opera scenes, the writing of program notes for the production, or participation in the Opera Preview.

 

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