06 Michael Hersch PoppeaMichael Hersch – Poppaea
Ah Young Hong; Steve Davislim; Silke Gang; Ensemble Phoenix Basel; Jerg Henneberger
New Focus Recordings FCR390 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Even if you were not aware of the details of the violence of Roman rule during the early Anno Domini era you will feel its effects in the pit of your stomach as you listen to the operatic recreation of the story of the Empress Poppaea.

On one level, Michael Hersch’s recreation of Poppaea Sabina (30AD-65AD), the second wife of the legendary imperial despot Nero, may be a simple tale of palace intrigue. However, there seems to be a much deeper motive in this shrill, masterful retelling of the tragedy. And it is this: The conniving woman who won the heart and hand of the emperor and bore him a child, appears to have created a powerful, matriarchal rule in the imperial household.

Brilliantly detailed booklet notes by Dr. Lauren Donovan-Ginsberg, Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Duke University and a specialist in Neronian culture and history, make for riveting reading. Stephanie Fleischmann’s prescient libretto recreates the bloody and devious plot. 

Poppaea – played with shrill and terrifying ingenuity by the soprano Ah Young Hong – tears Nero (an appropriately despotic tenor Steve Davislim) away from his first wife Octavia, superbly sung by the dark and smoky-voiced mezzo Silke Gäng. 

You will also find yourself harbouring high praise for the superb casting and performances, and especially for the sensitive and vigorous direction of Jürg Henneberger who brings this Neronian tragedy of Poppaea to vivid life once again.

Listen to 'Michael Hersch: Poppaea' Now in the Listening Room

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