Monteverdi’s “Pur ti Miro”: The Final Love Duet From “L’incoronazione di Poppea”

Claudio Monteverdi’s 1643 opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (“The Coronation of Poppaea”), begins with a clash between mythological deities. In the prologue which precedes the first act, the goddesses of Fortune and Virtue each argue that they hold the most power over humankind. Soon, their disagreement is interrupted by the god of Love, who claims the greatest power of all, with the bold proclamation, “I tell the virtues what to do, I govern the fortunes of men.”

It’s a reality which is affirmed in the three-act opera’s rapturous final scene. Just before the final curtain falls, Nero and Poppea sing the love duet, Pur ti miro, pur ti godo (“I gaze upon you, I desire you”). When L’incoronazione di Poppea was premiered at Venice’s Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during the carnival season of 1643, audiences would have known the horrors which lurked beyond this blissful final scene. As the story goes, Nero, Emperor of Rome between 54 and 68 AD, went on to attack the pregnant Poppea in a fit of rage, leading to her death.

Regardless, Pur ti miro, pur ti godo is one of opera’s most intimate and blissful expressions of romantic love. Occasional aching dissonances melt into sunny parallel thirds. The text is passionate and direct:

I adore you, I embrace you,
I desire you, I enchain you,
no more grieving, no more sorrow,
O my dearest, O my beloved.

I am yours, O my love,
tell me so, you are mine,
mine alone, O my love.
Feel my heart, see my love, see.

L’incoronazione di Poppea was Monteverdi’s final opera. The composer died some six months after the premiere. Musicologists have speculated that, due to Monteverdi’s declining health, the opera was a collaborative effort which may have included Francesco Sacrati, Benedetto Ferrari, and Francesco Cavalli. The younger “apprentice” composers may have worked under Monteverdi’s direct supervision.

During the Baroque period, male roles were often performed by castrati, who sang in a range equivalent to a soprano or mezzo soprano. This 2009 recording features the countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, and the soprano, Nuria Rial: 

This contrasting recording from 1997 features sopranos Elena Cecchi Fedi and Roberta Invernizzi:

Recordings

  • Monteverdi: Pur ti miro (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Philippe Jaroussky, Nuria Rial Amazon 
  • Monteverdi: Pur ti miro (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Elena Cecchi Fedi, Roberta Invernizzi, Alan Curtis Amazon

Featured Image: “Capriccio with ruins of the Roman Forum” (c. 1634), Claude Lorrain 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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