Monteverdi: L'incoronazrione di Poppea
Glyndebourne Festival Opera
How should we feel at the end of a work where the wicked triumph and the honest are destroyed? In most English tragedies the good are eventually seen to regain control - whether it be King Lear or The Revenger's Tragedy – even if we have been awash with corpses along the way. Poppea is a more subtle and complex narrative, where a corrupt tyrant destroys those closest to him in order to promote the ambition of a pushy slut. It is interesting that in Robert Carson's new production Danielle de Niese's Poppea does not get dressed until the final scene and for much of the time she rolls around in bed with her lover.
He presents us with a decadent and corrupt world, uncomfortably close to our own. The claustrophobic swathes of red velvet cut off the court from reality and seem to bathe it in blood. The only sight of daylight comes with Seneca's garden and the radiant appearance of Mercury – beautifully sung by Trevor Scheunemann.
But then the vocal quality of this production is never at risk with exemplary performances from Paolo Battaglia as Seneca, Marie Arnet as Drusilla and Alice Coote as Nerone. Added to this Emmanuelle Haim's handling of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is a joy throughout. Two harpsichords, two organs and two theorbos together with strings, cornetts and recorders gave a wonderful tonal palette to support the voices and nuances of characterisation without ever overpowering the text. Consequently we heard every word while understanding the implications from the orchestral support.
While most of Robert Carsen's production moves forward with some sense of logic it is prone to unnecessary clichés, with an overused bath and an Empress who carries her own suite cases. The comic characters come over well but I could have done with a greater sense of lightness in the court itself. This Nero did not seem to be having a great time when out of bed and there was little sense of the effect his conduct is having on the outside world, which we often view through the eyes of the servants.
Not perfect then, but a blessed relief after the problems on the ENOs most recent approach, for this at least took the work seriously as the masterpiece it is.
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