The Coronation of Poppea

The Coronation of Poppea [sung in Italian]

Fortune – Sonya Yoncheva
Virtue – Simona Mihai
Cupid – Amy Freston
Otho – Iestyn Davies
Soldier 1 – Andrew Tortise
Soldier 2 – Peter Gijsbertsen
Poppea – Danielle de Niese
Nero – Alice Coote
Arnalta – Wolgang Ablinger-Speerhacke
Octavia – Tamara Mumford
Nurse – Dominique Visse
Seneca – Paolo Battaglia
Page – Lucia Cirillo
Lucan – Andrew Tortise
Liberto – Peter Gijsbertsen
Drusilla – Marie Arnet
Mercury – Trevor Scheunemann
Lady in waiting – Claire Ormshaw
Lictor – Patrick Schramm
Tribunes – Peter Gijsbertsen & Andrew Tortise
Friends – Dominique Visse & Patrick Schramm
Consuls – Trevor Scheunemann & Patrick Schramm

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Emmanuelle Haïm (harpsichord)

Bruno Ravella – Proms staging director

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 31 July, 2008
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Emmanuelle Haïm. Photograph: Simon Fowler/Virgin ClassicsIn a packed, hot and stuffy Royal Albert Hall Glyndebourne Festival Opera made its annual Proms appearance, this year with Robert Carsen’s production of “The Coronation of Poppea”.

Stripped of Michael Levine’s sets and played on the black Royal Albert Hall stage swathed in red material and with a minimum of props and with dimmed lighting that very much focussed one’s attention on the drama this was an evening to remember.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was led from the harpsichord by Emmanuelle Haïm, who kept the pace varied and brought out the musical contrasts of the different worlds of the nobles and politicians and their servants. Monteverdi’s subtle score and inspiration emerged fresh, and the players brought great vitality to their ostentatious moments. The recorders produced wonderfully trumpet-like sounds, and despite the cavernous acoustic the contribution of the lutes, which are so important in the scenes between Nero and Poppea, could always be heard. The continuo was refreshingly unfussy.

Alice Coote There were some outstanding vocal performances, too. As Nero, Alice Coote was in her finest voice, producing singing that was sensual in the scenes with Poppea and fiery and mettlesome in the more political moments. Coote knows the benefit of stillness and charted the corruptive effect of power on Nero disturbingly. The scene between Seneca and Nero where they argue about how a ruler should behave was one of the central moments in this portrayal. Nero’s gradual destructive enjoyment of absolute power as demonstrated by the almost matter-of-fact delivery of the order for Seneca’s death and his subsequent arousal by the killing of Lucan in a bath, an unsettling episode introduced in the production, were vividly brought to life. This Nero also was one who enjoyed the thrill of the amorous chase rather more than the result – and so there was a chilling moment when he finally got his heart’s desire when he turned away from Poppea, already having doubts about her and, mentally at least, seeking fresh adventures. This was reinforced in a rather open-ended dramatic realisation of the final duet.

Danielle de NieseDanielle de Niese gave a satisfyingly restrained performance as Poppea – certainly surprising for those who recall her stupendously lively performance as Cleopatra in Glyndebourne’s “Giulio Cesare” at the proms a few years ago. She brought out the calculating and manipulative nature of the character to perfection; her delicate alluring singing had us hanging on every note. Poppea’s gradual awareness that all might not end happily was charted unerringly – she’s a fine singing actress.

Tamara Mumford. Photograph: Dave Cross Contrasted with these two were the regal and rather more conventionally operatic performances of Tamara Mumford’s luscious-voiced Octavia – another singer who knows the value of economy. She made the most of her final appearance with all those alliterative “Ah” sounds. Also impressive was Iestyn Davies’s portrayal of Otho. His warm countertenor carried extraordinarily well in this Hall. Paolo Battaglia’s younger-than-average Seneca was strong, compromised only by a lack of sonority in the lowest notes of his range.

There was much to enjoy in some of the performances of the servant roles. Arnalta and the nurse were both sung by men. Dominique Visse’s playing with his various vocal registers became somewhat wearing by the end of the evening, but Wolfgang Ablinger-Speerhacke’s Arnalta trod the line more astutely despite what the director had him do with his costume-changes.

The gods were well sung. In his brief appearance as Mercury, Trevor Scheunemann’s virile and focussed baritone caught attention, and Amy Freston’s hyperactive Cupid was another committed performance, although initially her voice seemed over-light.

All in all this was an intense performance of a tricky work and the quality of performance made one forget the uncomfortable heat and stuffiness – and that’s no mean achievement!

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