Then there's the question of version. We have two, one from Venice, one from Naples. Which are you using?
Stubbs: We first created our own edition of Poppea for a production in Vancouver in 2004. Since then we have continued to refine it in every way. We have consulted every passage from both existing scores and chosen our preferred passages from both. The similarities are much stronger than the differences between the two sources, but it is always comforting to be able to check suspected mistakes by comparing the two. Also, this time we have been able to consult the earliest existing libretto, which has clarified even more about the possible “original” version. To be clear: neither score is an autograph manuscript from Monteverdi; both come from his direct circle of associates in the decade or so after his death. This makes the editing process somewhat of a detective story. One of the greatest authorities on the late Monteverdi operas, Ellen Rosand, will be with us for the festival and speaking at our symposia. We should have some fascinating discussions on this topic.
The instrumentation is also a matter of some debate — how much, and what kind . . .
Stubbs: We actually know what the usual Venetian band had: three- or four- or five-part strings (one on a part) and as many continuo players (harpsichords, theorbos, harps etc.) as they could afford — but typically two harpsichords and two theorbos. We have four-part strings (as in the Naples version), two harpsichords, two theorbos, harp, viola da gamba, and lirone. So compared to the historical Venetian troupes, we would weigh in as typical but on the opulent side for continuo.
This year the BEMF Opera is moving from the Majestic Theatre to the Calderwood Pavilion. Is that closer in size to the Teatro SS. Giovanni E Paolo, where Poppea was first staged?
Stubbs: Yes and no. In fact the total footprint of the Venetian theater is very close to the Cutler Majestic. BUT! . . . the internal dimensions are virtually reversed, with the much larger portion in the old theater given to the stage space (for creating long perspectives) and the smaller part with the audience piled up in tiers. The effect for the audience is of being much closer to the action — an effect that is much closer to the one we will have at the Calderwood. From our point of view, the proximity of the audience is paramount in creating the kind of intimacy we associate with spoken drama. Think of Poppea as a Shakespeare tragicomedy, with the addition of sublime music, and it will be easy to imagine how enjoyable it will be to be in an intimate space for that experience.
Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea | Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, 617-933-8600 | June 6 -14, 2009 |www.bemf.org
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