The Coronation of Poppea - English Touring Opera - Britten Theatre, 9 October 2013
What happens when rulers have absolute power? How far will they go when there are no limits? James Conway's production sets Monteverdi's opera in the explicitly political context of Stalin's Soviet Union.
Helen Sherman made an imposing Nero, matched by the scheming Poppea of Paula Sides. Hannah Pedley played Nero's spurned wife Ottavia as cool, calculating and unsympathetic. Equally cool was Michal Czerniawski's Ottone. He was clearly a moral cut above the others, but too undemonstrative to make a credible suitor for Poppea. Russell Harcourt and John-Colyn Gyeantey played the cross-dressed servants Nutrice and Arnalta with a welcome absence of the expected camp, and it was left to Hannah Sandison's Drusilla to provide a touch of lightness.
Sung in English, trimmed down to its lean, action-led essentials, English Touring Opera's production is serious and effective. Michael Rosewell led the period instruments of the Old Street Band in economical and incisive complement.
For an opera that's nearly 400 years old, Poppea remains remarkably modern and relevant, a warning of the dangers of inverted moral values in the corridors of power. Next version - the court of Emperor Blair?
production photos (above) Richard Hubert Smith
curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com