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World Premiere Recording of Michael Hersch and Stephanie Fleischmann's POPPAEA Released by New Focus Recordings

Mar. 07, 2024

New Focus Recordings recently released the world premiere recording of Michael Hersch and Stephanie Fleischmann's opera, POPPAEA. A modern take on the brilliant, dynamic woman who became Nero’s empress, the opera takes a hard look at cruelty, desire, humanity, and love in the context of the machinations of power endemic to Nero’s reign. POPPAEA conjures a dark world in which violence—in particular, violence against women—is rampant, and the value of human life has been demeaned beyond measure. And yet Poppaea’s journey might be described as a complex movement towards empathy. Click here to listen, learn more, and purchase the disc.

FCR390 Michael Hersch: POPPAEA preview video

POPPAEA was premiered in September 2021 at ZeitRäume Basel – Biennial for New Music and Architecture, led by conductor Jürg Henneberger and director Markus Bothe, and featuring soprano Ah Young Hong in the title role. Additional performances took place in November 2021 at the Wien Modern Festival. Unlike Monteverdi's famous opera, Hersch and Fleischmann's version offers no satisfying lieta fine culminating in sumptuous a love duet. Rather, it presents the cruel and bloody life and death of the Empress Poppaea and her unborn child at the hands of the tyrannical Emperor Nero.

Photo by Piertzovanis Toews for ZeitRäume Basel – Biennial for New Music and Architecture

POPPAEA has been lauded by the press. Der Standard notes, "... it is the music that - with its subtle, ecstatic pressure - provides the most immediate effect. Hersch combines fragility and expressiveness ... waves of sound and texture that accurately capture murder fantasies, fears and guilt ... inner states vividly depicted". Salzburg Nachtrichten says, "Hersch ...with librettist Fleischmann radically turns the gaze onto the title character ... If Monteverdi's early baroque opera ends with the titular coronation of Nero's second wife and the banishment of the first, Fleischmann draws in poetry the picture of a woman who is less femme fatale than traumatized, a hermaphrodite of victim and perpetrator. It is no longer the woman from the manifesting point of view of men, but an agent who ultimately ends up in marital hell with femicide. Hersch clothes this tableau of the deranged in a surprisingly emotionally charged score." 

Photo by Piertzovanis Toews for ZeitRäume Basel – Biennial for New Music and Architecture

Composer Georg Friedrich Haas has praised Michael Hersch's unique compositional voice, noting that he "continues the tradition of the great 'lone wolves' in the USA: Charles Ives, Harry Partch, John Cage ... he is the explorer of an unconditional, radical expressivity that reveals the human abyss without any palliation in music, in a new, crystal-clear beauty."

POPPAEA is scored for six singers and female chorus with chamber orchestra. Learn more about this gripping new music drama here.