Back in 1962, Glyndebourne brought Monteverdi’s 1643 opera back into the modern repertory using a lavish musical edition by Raymond Leppard.
Times change, and the musical version on this occasion, with the period-instrument Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment under Emmanuelle Haim, is closer to what the original audience would have heard, although still sizeable by the standards of Venice’s first commercial opera houses. Nor does Haim characterise or galvanise the music with consistent attack.
Robert Carsen’s modern-dress production is strong on bringing out the ironies of the piece - in which Nero’s lover Poppea triumphs in her rise to power, while the two of them trample over everyone in their way - although a visual obsession with red velvet curtains in Michael Levine’s sets seems mysteriously limiting. At times, the cast seems to be performing the show to an onstage Glyndebourne audience. Monteverdi’s masterpiece has far wider resonances than that.
A number of the individual performances - the three allegorical figures of the prologue, Paolo Battaglia’s Seneca and Tamara Mumford’s Ottavia - lack vocal or dramatic weight, although the latter is an expressive performer. Both the comic nurses - delivered by Dominique Visse and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke - are finely drawn in, and the two central roles - Alice Coote’s wilful Nero, and Danielle de Niese’s sex kitten Poppea - are brilliantly realised dramatically and sung with imagination. They, at least, are fully in focus, but what surrounds them is regularly less assured.