Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea

Celebrating 450 years since the birth of Monteverdi, Pinchgut Opera performed one of the greatest operas of all time, Coronation of Poppea. 

Coronation of Poppea charts the consuming erotic obsession of the Emperor Nero for the beautiful Poppea Sabina. Ruthlessly sweeping aside anyone who stands in the way of their union - including Nero's wife Octavia and the poet and philosopher Seneca - Nero and Poppea triumph over all their opponents and rejoice in one of the most sensuous and exquisitely beautiful duets, "Pur ti miro". 


Monteverdi Coronation of Poppea (libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello)

Thurs 30 November 7pm | Sat 2 December 2pm | Sun 3 December 5pm | Tues 5 December 7pm | Wed 6 December 7pm 2017
City Recital Hall, Sydney

Sung in Italian with English surtitles.


Artist Information

Watch a short video featuring Erin Helyard and Helen Sherman.

Helen Sherman               Poppea       
Jake Arditti                      Nero
Natalie Christie Peluso   Ottavia, Drusilla
Roberta Diamond            Amore
Owen Willetts                 Ottone  
Kanen Breen                   Arnalta
Adam Player                   Soldato I, Famigliari II
Jacob Lawrence             Soldato II, Liberto, Console
David Greco                   Seneca
Jeremy Kleeman            Famigliari III,  Tribuno
Troy Honeysett               Actor
Govinda Röser                Actor

Orchestra of the Antipodes

Erin Helyard Conductor
Mark Gaal Director
Charles Davis Designer
Ross Graham Lighting Designer
Troy Honeysett Assistant Director

Read the Reviews

Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian


The Conversation



Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567. He was the son of a doctor and the eldest of five children. Not much is known about his youth. Claudio and his brother studied music with a Marc Antonio Ingegneri who was the cathedral composer, though there is no evidence that either sang in the choir.

Monteverdi was a prodigy, publishing his first work, Cantiunculae sacrae, a volume of sacred songs, as a 15 year-old. His second book was published the following year and in 1584 his third book was published by the Venetian house which would become his main publisher, Vincenti & Amadino. Three years later, aged 19, he published his First Book of Madrigals.

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In 1592, aged 25, Monteverdi was hired as a viol player to Vincenzo I, Duke of Mantua. Mantua was under the protection of the powerful Gonzaga family, and Monteverdi’s lot depended very much on the character of the ruling duke. The first Gonzaga Duke, Guglielmo, was wise, cultured, educated, talented and progressive; Vincezo I, Guglielmo’s successor and Monteverdi’s boss, fell short of the ideal Renaissance monarch. An inconsistent, brutish ruler, he did however have a great love for drama and music and kept a stable of virtuoso performers to gratify his passion for display. Duke Vincenzo promoted Monteverdi from viol player to singer, a much more senior position. The next year Monteverdi was disappointed when the maestro di cappella died and the vacancy was filled by Benedetto Pallavincino, an older, well-published musician whom Monteverdi nevertheless considered his inferior. Despite his own growing fame and the fact that he was the highest paid court singer – and next in line for promotion – Monteverdi began to feel discontent. He married court singer Claudia Cattaneo in May 1599; when Pallavicino died in 1601, Monteverdi again applied for his position and was awarded the post, the same year that his son Francesco was born.

AS he became more famous, his music was attacked by Bolgnese theorist Giovanni Maria Artusi, who in 1600 and 1603 pointed to Monteverdi as a perpetrator of crimes against music. When the Fifth Book of Madrigals appeared in 1605, pehaps in reply to Artusi, opinion sided with Monteverdi. Not only was this fifth volume reprinted within a year, the publisher also reprinted all of Monteverdi’s earlier books.

Two more children were born to Claudio and Claudia, and with their debts mounting, Monteverdi complained about irregular payment of his salary. In 1607 he presented L’Orfeo, but had little opportunity to enjoy the triumph of his first opera. Claudia died in September of that year, after a long illness, and Monteverdi was left a widower with his two surviving children, sons aged six and three. He was 40 years old.

He stopped composing, but was coaxed back by a letter promising fame and a prince’s gratitude. He buried his sorrows in work - new opera (Arianna), an intermezzo and a ballet for the celebration of a royal wedding. Despite extremely stressful working conditions, his music was a great success. However, this could not alter his depression and Monteverdi went home to Cremona in such a collapsed state that his father wrote to the Duchess of Mantua with a request that Claudio be released from his duties.

The request was denied and Monteverdi was summoned to return, though with a substantial pay rise. By 1610 he was back in Mantua and obviously casting about for another job. The need to find this became urgent when, in 1612, Vincenzo died; his son Francesco ascended the throne and dismissed Monteverdi. After more than twenty years of service in the Gonzaga ducal court, Monteverdi returned to Cremona with the equivalent of one month’s salary in his pocket: his life savings.

The following year the maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice died. Monteverdi applied for the post and was appointed on the spot. This new job was huge. The Basilica at San Marco was the largest musical establishment in Italy, with regularly employed singers and instrumentalists, and many others for special events. Music had to be provided – composed, rehearsed, performed – for about forty festivals per year. In his mid-forties, he was in his prime not only in the own composition but also in how he hired musicians for more services and expanded the music library. After three years he was granted a ten-year contract. He was happy – financially comfortable, famous, appreciated by his employers, and loved by the public.

By 1620 Venice was a ferment of music composition – there were six composers employed by the Basilica itself. Monteverdi was in his fifties, secure in his job and venerated at home and abroad. As well as his church composition, he wrote solo motets, duets and other more easily performed works for various anthologies of church music. Heinrich Schütz visited from Germany in 1628 to learn from Monteverdi the new art of opera and church music. In 1630 the plague swept through Venice, killing 40,000 but sparing Claudio. He was worn down by the strain, however, and in 1632 was ordained a priest.

Just when it seemed that his career was beginning to fade, Venice was evolving into a city of opera. In 1637 the first public opera house opened with Manelli’s Andromeda. Soon after, several others were opened and Monteverdi was not one to be left out. Aged 70, Monteverdi’s composing took on a new life. Arianna was revived in 1639 (though was subsequently lost); a series of new works followed, including Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. He published his Eighth Book of Madrigals and a collection of church music. In 1642, at the age of 75, he composed the Coronation of Poppea.

He died in Venice of a malignant fever on 29 November 1643. The city mourned him with an impressive funeral ceremony held in two churches. San Marco and Santa Maria sei Frari, where he was buried. His publisher Vincenti collected the manuscripts of all his unpublished church music and published them in 1651. Also that year, Poppea performed in far-away Naples.

Like many great composers of the Baroque, Monteverdi’s work was largely neglected after his death and regained full recognition only in the 20th Century.


Cupid, the god of Love, sets out to prove to the goddesses of Fortune and Virtue that in the affairs of mortals, Love will always triumph.

The Emperor Nero wishes to be rid of his wife, the Empress Ottavia, and to marry his mistress Poppea. 

His most trusted advisor Seneca counsels against the plan, but Nero will not listen to reason. Urged on by Poppea, he orders Seneca’s death.

Poppea’s former lover Ottone turns his affections to Drusilla, who has always loved him.

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Ottavia decides to murder Poppea and forces Ottone to carry out the killing. He is aided in the attempt by Drusilla, but the plot fails when Cupid intervenes.

Nerone banishes Drusilla and Ottone. With Ottavia also banished, Nero marries Poppea and crowns her Empress.

Love is triumphant.