You Review: Opera North’s Coronation of Poppea

Mike Tilling reports from a contemporary setting of Monteverdi’s opera

You Review: Opera North’s Coronation of Poppea


In opera, villains always get their just desserts, even if virtue isn’t always rewarded. The lead characters in Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea not only go unpunished, but they thrive on infidelity and murder. They also end up happily singing the ravishing ‘Pur ti miro’ in each other’s arms.

Opera North's set, designed by Hannah Clark, was a subterranean room of dingy green tiles. In the opening scenes it looked like a shabby-chic restaurant but it soon became apparent that this was a public toilet, surely a comment on the characters and their actions.

The splendid qualities of countertenor James Laing (Nerone) are already well-known to Opera North audiences. However, in his grey business suit he had a real challenge to convince us that he was the bonkers Emperor Nero and we only saw occasional flashes of real mental instability.

Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy was entirely convincing playing Poppea, who callously demands the death of anyone who opposes her marriage to the Emperor. Eddy’s soprano complemented Laing’s countertenor as the two sank deeper into depravity.

The much-admired James Creswell as Seneca provided rational comment in his rich baritone, but he was gone before the interval, his suicide demanded by Poppea. Apparently his demise was the result of speaking too much sense.

Each scene was a tableau, often static in itself, but gradually moving the plot forward. It offered cast members the chance to establish distinct characters: Catherine Hooper as the discarded wife Ottavia, Christopher Ainslie as the ridiculous cuckold Ottone and Fiona Kimm as the strangely malevolent maid Arnalta.

Mike Tilling

Photo: Tristram Kenton



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