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In thrall to an uncontrollable passion, the Emperor Nero spends every night with his lover Poppea, and in doing so is in danger of neglecting his duties as a ruler. For her part, Poppea gently but firmly urges her lover to also sever his ties publicly with the Empress Octavia. But Octavia does not meekly submit to her fate: she forces Poppea’s erstwhile lover Otho into the clandestine murder of her rival. The plan fails, however, and Otho is arrested. It is discovered that Octavia is behind the plot, and all guilty parties are sentenced to the uncertain punishment of banishment. The way is finally clear for Poppea to be crowned empress. Now nothing stands in the way of the two lovers.
In Monteverdi’s political thriller, full of eroticism, murder, and intrigue, it is the very amour fou of the two main protagonists that threatens to destabilise the balance of political power. Thus the other characters’ naked fight for survival inevitably becomes a fight against the love between Nero and Poppea, just as Poppea’s fight for her love is ultimately a fight for her own survival. The innocence of Arcadian love has long since been lost and perverted.
Monteverdi finds the most varying of tones for the different characters in this power game, yet his music is never judgemental or condemnatory. Thus the wonderfully uplifting duet between Nero and Poppea at the end of the opera is without reservation one of the most heartfelt love duets in the entire history of opera.
Libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello
German textversion by Susanne Felicitas Wolf