Sunday, 30 November 2014

The psychopath and his second wife



Monteverdi, Coronation of Poppea (Opera North, dir. Laurence Cummings Theatre Royal Nottingham)

Opera North’s Coronation of Poppea saw early opera brought very thoroughly back to life. It might be set in a mortuary with a distinct aura of death, but the music, song and drama have an astonishing pulse.
It glistens, its slick, but it isn’t in the least gimmicky. The pared back space of somewhere ambiguous: perhaps a lunatic dictator’s bunker, perhaps some disused public baths, a swimming pool, a mortuary, a slaughter house or anywhere tiled; almost certainly for blood. Industrial chic with a chilling edge. It was apparent from square one that the jug of tomato juice would not be restricted to mixing up a few bloody Marys: smeared into wife # 1’s hair gave a gruesome display of the Emperor’s wickedness. Back to the bunker, its slightly tarnished look set everything on edge. And quietly, at both sides of the stage, two harpsichord-players/directors and six other musicians – only eight instruments in total, had bene lifted out of the pit and on to the stage. But somehow it all felt subterranean.
The Gods – including a rather spunky Cupid, either perched atop Norn-like, or on three theatrical seats – sitting over the pit (what a view!), munching insouciantly on popcorn.
Sung in English. But something in the way the words are almost laid across the music meant this was all gloriously successful. And the blasted television screens providing needless and distracting titles were turned off – hurrah!
Nerone has to be a bit bonkers and not a little psychotic, but it has to be done without becoming too pantomime – he isn’t a comedy villain – he is a historical character, here dramatically interpreted and adapted with a certain degree of malice. Countertenor James Laing was cast the part, to great effect. This presents a particular challenge because you need a countertenor with a voice which is both threatening (and nuts) at the same time. Jaroussky for example, would be far too angelic to sing this (I’d still go). James Laing was a wonderful choice by Opera North.
If Laing was probably the strongest singer, but really it was a very strong cast, and very well chosen too. It was good to see Fiona Kimm on good form again.  I also enjoyed Seneca and his sports coat-clad followers. This was an incredibly successful production. I would certainly catch a revival. 

Overall: One scary power couple.

Cast:
Poppea Sandra Piques Eddy
Nerone James Laing
Ottavia Catherine Hopper
Seneca James Creswell
Ottone Christopher Ainslie
Drusilla Katherine Manley
Arnalta Fiona Kimm
Fortuna / Valletto Ciara Hendrick
Virtù Claire Pascoe
Amore Emilie Renard
Liberto Daniel Norman
Lucano Nicholas Sharratt
Famigliari Owen Willetts
Famigliari Warren Gillespie
Famigliari Dominic Barberi

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