L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Reviewed – 30th January 2019
“every person involved demonstrated a high level of vocal and acting skills”
First performed in Venice in 1643, L’Incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), tells the story of Poppea, mistress of the Roman Emperor Nero (Nerone), in her pursuit to become Empress. This production of one of the first operas to use historical events and figures manages to engage a modern audience through timeless themes and talented vocal performances.
Although there are central characters, this work is best described as a strong ensemble piece. All ten performers engage well with each other, displaying believable levels of emotion as well as physical connections. There are no awkward gaps between scenes, with performers making seamless entrances and exits.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a standout performance as every person involved demonstrated a high level of vocal and acting skills. However, the scenes and duets between Poppea and Nerone must be mentioned for their intensity and passion, excellently delivered by Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada and Helen May. Joana Gil as Drusilla brings a welcomed level of comedy and light, particularly during her early scenes with Eric Schlossberg as Ottone. Ottone’s love for Poppea is earlier rejected by her, and he offers to marry Druisilla when he realises he cannot win Poppea’s affections.
Accompanying the singers is a baroque period ensemble, led by Marcio da Silva, who is both Stage and Musical Director. Instruments include two harpsichords, an organ, lutes, a baroque guitar, baroque violins and a cello. These are all skilfully played and complement the vocal performances well.
The opera is performed in Italian with English surtitles, which are projected onto a wall upstage. This generally works well and the words are clear. At times, it did prove difficult to switch focus between the words and the performers on stage, but this could simply be due to the fact that having surtitles as part of a production is arguably quite rare and something that takes getting used to from an audience perspective.
Although first performed in the 17th century, L’Incoronazione di Poppea explores the timeless themes of love and its power, lust, ambition and sex. A minimalist set and contemporary costumes, as well as these themes, help a modern audience to engage, whilst the baroque ensemble means there is still a traditional feel. For someone who’s not hugely familiar with opera, I was impressed and feel inspired to broaden my knowledge of the genre. A sensual, well-delivered production!
Reviewed by Emily K Neal
Photography by Andreas Grieger
L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Cockpit Theatre until 1st February
Previously reviewed at this venue: