L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea) is an opera seria in three acts by Claudio Monteverdi to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, based on historical incidents described in the Annals of Tacitus. First performance: Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, 1642.
The opera takes Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the Roman Emperor Nero, as the heroine of the plot. L'incoronazione di Poppea is Monteverdi's last opera, showing his maturity. The plot by Busenello is a masterwork of irony, on the face of it showing the apparent triumph of Amore over Virtu and Fortuna as promised by the prologue. However, the educated audience of the day would have been aware of the pregnant Poppea's subsequent murder by Nero in a fit of rage. Nero is later succeeded by Ottone as emperor: Poppea could have achieved her objective without tragedy simply by having remained faithful to Ottone in the first place.
It is believed that the opera's florid closing duet between Nerone and Poppea was written not by Monteverdi but by another composer.
Virtù and Fortuna argue, each claiming to be a more important goddess. Both yield to Amore.
After a prologue sung by the mythological characters, Act I begins with Ottone arriving at Poppea's house at daybreak, and retreating in dismay after he sees Nero's guards outside it. In an interesting alba, the guards curse military life and exchange scurrilous gossip about Poppea's scheming. This is a vivid prelude to the first of the opera's several steamy love scenes. Poppea, having left Ottone who still loves her, is now with the Emperor Nerone. Nerone and Poppea part tenderly. Arnalta warns Poppea to be careful for the empress knows of her husbands strayings. Ottavia becomes upset by the way she is treated. Seneca consoles her and pleads with Nerone on her behalf. Nerone promises Poppea that she will be Empress. Seneca tries to show Nerone the wrongness of what Nerone is doing. Nerone becomes angry and orders Seneca's death. After he sees that Poppea does not love him, but only wants power, Ottone courts Drusilla. Valletto courts Damigella.
Seneca carries out his own death order and kills himself. Nerone is elated by the death and by Poppea's beauty. Ottavia orders Ottone to kill Poppea. He disguises himself, after borrowing Drusilla's cloak, but Amore prevents him from killing his former lover. Drusilla, trying to save Ottone, confesses and is arrested for the plot. Ottone, having heard everything, comes forward and tells Nerone the truth. Nerone decides to spare their lives, although they are banished. Now, Nerone decides to finally banish Ottavia and make Poppea his bride. Nerone invites Poppea to the throne. Poppea is crowned empress.