London Coliseum from
Director: Chen Shi-Zheng
In the primitive operatic landscape of early 17th-Century
The Coronation of Poppea is the second instalment of Shi-Zheng’s Monteverdi triptych for ENO, with The Return of Ulysses due in a year’s time. The astonishing score drips eroticism from every recorder and chitarrone - and this production has its measure. In a glorious scene that out-Puccinis Puccini, Anna Grevelius’s louche Nerone quivers with ecstasy as Lucano (Nicholas Watts) extols Poppea’s beauty, while the opera’s final love duet is breathtakingly lyrical, especially as shared between the distinctively radiant vocal timbres of Grevelius and Kate Royal, a stunning Poppea both vocally and physically.
Rarely in its recent history has ENO boasted luxury casting of the depth we have here. Diana Montague as Venus and the great bass Robert Lloyd as Seneca are complemented by a uniformly strong cast that includes the counter-tenor Tim Mead, appropriately vulnerable as Ottone, and a fabulously witty turn from Lucy Crowe as his doting Drusilla, sweet of voice but mischievous of purpose. Christopher Gillett overcomes a ludicrous costume to lend his high tenor to a well-rounded Arnalta, and even the smallest minor roles are impeccably sung. Directing from the harpsichord, Lawrence Cummings maintains throughout an ideal balance between singers and period instrumentalists - no mean feat in the wide open spaces of the Coliseum.
Visually, Chen Shi-Zheng offers a feast of ritual surrealism and pastel paradoxes. So mesmerising are the dancers of
Notwithstanding the devilment of such baffling details, Chen Shi-Zheng and his designer, Walt Spangler, have realised Monteverdi’s masterpiece in a humorous and compelling production that consistently honours both the music and the cheerfully immoral tale at its heart. Three hours flew by in an instant; I was captivated throughout.
Photos by Catherine Ashmore and show Top: Katherine Manley (Fortune) / Jane Harrington (Virtue),Middle:Kate Royal (Poppea) / Anna Grevelius (Nerone) Bottom: Orange Blossom Dance Co
For more information on this production please visit http://www.eno.org/poppea/main.html