Monteverdi’s final opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea, first performed in the 1642-43 carnival season in Venice, was unusual in its time for abandoning mythology in favour of a retelling of historical events. The opera portrays Poppea’s progression from Nero’s mistress to his acknowledged queen. In stark contrast to “L’Orfeo” and “Il ritorno d’Ulisse”, Monteverdi’s operatic swan-song is a celebration of carnal love and ambition triumphing at the expense of reason and morality. Set in the decadence of Imperial Rome it explores the emotional core of a group of characters as they form and dissolve alliances to achieve their amorous goals and social ambitions. From the outset Monteverdi achieves stark contrasts – the way, for example, he juxtaposes a scene in which two disgruntled sentry guards satirise Rome’s degenerate society and prepare us to despise Nero and Poppea, and then follows it with a portrayal of the two lovers as they exchange and entwine musical lines which leave us under their irresistible spell.