Article Title

Love and Infamy: The Paradox of Monteverdi's L'Icoronazione di Poppea


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

L'Incoronazione di Poppea, as conceived by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and his librettist Busenello, appears to transform a totally dishonorable episode in Roman history into an opera which glorifies the most infamous of imperial consorts. The love of the wicked Nero and the ambitious Poppaea Sabina at first may seem to emulate the idealized love of the Middle Ages and the Renaissancecourtly love-and in a sense the manner of presentation may even seem to justify their passion. We may be reminded of Tristan und Isolde, in which illicit ( and technically incestuous) love engages our sympathy. Indeed, some of the devices used in both operas, notably dramatic irony and, to a lesser extent, the leit motif, are common to Wagner and Monteverdi. Wagner, however, drew his source from idealized fiction in courtly romance, while Monteverdi and Busenello drew for their libretto from unidealized history. Hence to transform the condemned incestuous lust recorded in history into condoned idealized courtly love would have proven to be a greater task than was Wagner's transformation of the Tristan and Isolt of romance into the Tristan and Is'olde of nineteenth-century opera. I contend, however, that Monteverdi neither intended nor wished to enlist our sympathy for Poppaea and Nero, and that in his opera, despite outward idyllic appearances, they remain essentially the infamous pair that history records them to be.

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