Once past the quibbles, (omission of the prologue, modern dress)
one has to take this performance seriously. Rene Jacobs leads a musically informed performance that is as dramatic as it is "correct."
Richard Croft, as usual, throws out some dazzling pyrotechnics with his versatile coloratura singing. While many prefer a mezzo or countertenor in this role, Croft makes a strong case for a tenor. That he's a particularly good-looking Nero only adds to the believability factor.
A basically unit set which expands and contracts around itself provides a great acting space adaptable to all of the many scenes. The intriguing costuming, is both futuristic and ancient looking at once contributing to a timeless effect.
Patricia Schuman is a marvelously sexy Poppea. Her singing seems to be more comfortable in the soprano range, while she is capable of the lower notes, they don't have quite the lovely quality of her mid and upper. But again, she looks and acts delicious and feels this music passionately.
Katherine Kuhlman's Ottavia is grim, but ultimately moving, yet she makes this character a little harsher than I've seen portrayed before.
Harry Peter's Seneca is beautifully sung, and with great dignity. Even in his suicide, which requires him to wear little more than a diaper, he retains a majestic and noble bearing. His suicide and the ensuing scene are among the most beautiful in this production. As Seneca dies, images of his life are projected above him which he watches along with us. The screen is replaced by a giant stage filling disc with stunning
zodiac symbols on it as Nero & Lucan sing over his corpse. There is a homoerotic
element that may disturb some, but the duet is simultaneously funny & moving culminating with Nero slipping his arms into some invisible straps, then swinging from the great disc back and forth over Seneca's corpse, as though he were a beautiful giant,
The countertenors are all terrific, particularly Poppea's nurse, It's sung in drag, and this
guy, an enormous, black fullback sized man, (indeed he looks like a linebacker) with a voice that is phenomenal in its range and power, more thickly mezzo sounding than I've ever heard in any countertenor. He is forced, however, to wear a costume at the end that looks like a nightmare mix of Dolly Levi & The Merry Widow, (with a hat that Dolly would kill for), taking camp about as far as possible.
Again, Richard Croft's Nero is the highlight of this beautifully produced DVD.