mon 22/07/2024

The Coronation of Poppea, Opera North | reviews, news & interviews

The Coronation of Poppea, Opera North

The Coronation of Poppea, Opera North

Monteverdi masterpiece played as fast-moving thriller

James Laing's Nerone menaces Katherine Manley's DrusillaPhoto: Tristram Kenton

Tim Albery’s production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea takes plenty of liberties. There are moments when you scratch your head, quietly sigh, and think about your interval drink, or what you’ll eat when you get home.

The cuts may disorientate Monteverdi affecionados. There’s also a bit of reordering, and no proper coronation. Albery’s new translation contains some excruciating couplets: Poppea is rhymed with "betray her" at one point, and later on there’s the pairing of strumpet and crumpet. Cupid is matched with stupid. Niggles aside, this is a wonderfully fresh, accessible staging of an opera which was first performed 371 years ago. How much of it was actually composed by Monteverdi is debatable, and surviving versions of the score don’t tell us what instruments should perform it. Laurence Cummings’ performing version is impeccably realised, his two small groups placed stage right and left, each led by harpsichord continuo. A pair of theorbos weave their magic, underscored by gamba and lirone.

We’re in a non-specific, late 20th-century setting. Womens’ hairstyles suggest the 1960s, though the details aren’t always consistent. Bare bricks and a long table suggest a chic restaurant at one point, and there’s a refrigerator door built into the back wall. There’s a lot of red sloshing about – wine and bloody marys are consumed in large quantities, and a jug of tomato juice features prominently. Sandra Piques Eddy’s Poppea is never more alluring than when she’s clad in scarlet in Act Three (pictured right, with Laing), standing out among an improbably photogenic young cast. Counter tenor James Laing’s Nerone is typical – blond, virile and athletic, prancing around the stage with limitless energy. The voice is terrific, coping brilliantly with Monteverdi’s cruel demands, and there’s an alarmingly funny moment where he has a petulant hissy fit. It’s easy to imagine the power he exerts over his shifty guards Liberto and Lucano (Daniel Norman and Nicholas Sharratt). They behave like a couple of plain clothes police officers, notably when interrogating Katharine Manley’s Drusilla in the final act. James Creswell’s heavy-footed Seneca steals the show’s first half – a crusty buffer dressed in corduroy and tweeds, his plodding, diatonic vocal lines in stark contrast to Nerone’s acrobatics. Seneca’s foppish acolytes are a comically entertaining bunch, looking as if they’ve strayed off the set of a Wes Anderson film. Albery's supporting cast are uniformly excellent: Catherine Hopper's Ottavia and Fiona Kimm's Arnalta particularly impressive.

Ottone is nicely played by Christopher Ainsley. The voice lacks the sharpness and clarity of Laing’s, but he’s another brilliant physical performer. His attempted murder of Poppea falls flat however; ludicrous cross-dressing turning the scene into cheap, corny farce. Having Emilie Renard’s Cupid portrayed as a flighty teenager in a baseball cap is effective; at one stage the three Gods watch the action while scoffing popcorn in cinema seats. The extent to which Albery’s free-wheeling exuberance trivialises the piece is debatable, but this witty, fast-moving production is easy to follow and offers plenty of visual and vocal pleasures. A shame there’s no coronation scene as such; we’re left instead with Emperor and Empress writhing on a table top as “Pur ti miro” unfolds ecstatically.

The three Gods watch the action while scoffing popcorn in cinema seats


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Brilliant evening watching first night of Poppea. Compelling singing and acting. Did not expect to enjoy it as whole-heartedly as I did. First time back in Leeds Grand in 12months after a serious accident so what a splendid return for me. Congratulations to all!

Do not be deceived! This show is a crisp and powerful rendition of a masterpiece of opera, performed by some of the top Monteverdi singers and instrumentalists in the world. There is nothing cheap or farcical about it. It is riveting from start to finish, and if you are left thinking "about your interval drink, or what you’ll eat when you get home" then you should probably have had that drink and a meal before coming to the opera. The review demonstrates how uninformed some reviewers are. I get the feeling this man understands very little about the singing or acting he is writing about. Please, we are dealing with serious theatre at the very highest level here. Let's avoid cheap word games in the reviews.

I agree with the two comments. Having just seen the performance in Newcastle I would describe this as one of the finest evenings of music theatre that I have seen in over twenty years of opera going. When opera north get it right they produce some of the finest opera experiences available in this country. The combination of staging, musical performance and(essentially) direction create something glorious.

I was so looking forward to seeing the Coronation of Poppea last night at The Lowry, Manchester with its huge auditorium and brilliant acoustic. I was thrilled by the placing of the band on either side of the stage and felt the balance of singers and instrumentalists was superb. The small decani and cantoris matched the sort of answering music groups that Monteverdi would have had for his more sacred works in St Marks Venice. I was engaged and in awe of the musicians and singers -fine actors all, loved the humour of Poppea's confidante. It was an outstanding experience.Thankyou so very very much all at Opera North involved in this fine production.I drove home in silence for over an hour with my head buzzing with the music.

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