L’Incoronazione di Poppea ★★★★ Arcola Theatre | July 26 - 30, 2022

Monteverdi's Baroque gem is a wonderfully fitting way to kick off the fifteenth season of the Grimeborn Opera Festival taking place at various venues from July 26 until September 10, 2022. This year, Grimeborn, which specialises in presenting innovative work at an affordable price, is offering thirteen different productions, and is showcasing the L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Ensemble OrQuesta in the appropriately intimate venue of the Arcola Theatre. Helen May as Poppea and Julia Portela Piñón as Nerone are strong leads, and the singing of the whole cast is quite sublime. They mesh together to do a fine job of capturing both the spirit of the piece and of the period. We were particularly taken by Poppy Shotts portrayal of the ever hopeful Drusilla and Gheorghe Palcu's stoic, bordering on pompous, Seneca. Anna-Luise Wagner put in superior performance as Amore, as did Hazel Neighbour as Virtu/Ottavia and Rachel Allen as Fortuna. Eric Schlossberg was a compelling Ottone and Kieran White was a worthy Lucano. Unfortunately, due to the way the production is lit and staged some of the singers occasionally ended up singing in partial obscurity, and at other points, sections of the audience had the singers' backs to them for long periods. The story of Poppea and Nero's love affair would have been well known to Monteverdi's audience and its apparent triumph at the conclusion of the opera would have been easily read as the vanity of ambition, worldly power and earthly love. In this production, perhaps because there is a concern that the audience won't know that bit of history, the irony is undermined by a miming of Poppea's death and of Nero's continuing dalliances. For us, it seemed an unnecessary directorial choice. Nevertheless, it's a night of splendid music, and this production is an excellent opening for the always popular festival.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Peter Mould.

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