United Kingdom Longborough Festival Opera 2018 – Monteverdi, L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Soloists and Orchestra of Longborough Festival Opera / Jeremy Silver (conductor). 30.7.2018 (CP)
Sofia Troncoso – Poppea
Matthew Paine – Ottone
Anna Harvey – Nerone
Matthew Buswell – Seneca
Lucy Knight – Drusilla
Maria Ostroukhova – Ottavia
Beth Taylor – Arnalta
Chiara Vinci – Amor
Rosie Lomas – Valleto
Anna Cavaliero – Fortuna
Isabella Cheevers – Virtu
Director – Jenny Miller
Designer – Nate Gibson
Lighting Designer – Matt Cater
Oxford classicist, Miriam Griffin’s obituary appeared in The Times just recently – a longstanding supporter of Seneca, the philosopher, leader and Stoic who favoured the moral high ground. Sadly, this was his downfall in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea in which morals no longer matter. Deceit, promiscuity and adulterous liaisons win the day, but do they last a longer journey? Monteverdi poses the question; it is possible to argue that his operas changed the course of music history; his template was used by operatic masters who followed him.
Many of the singers in this year’s Longborough’s Young Artist production will have their careers changed by this experience, a sometimes witty, frequently pacey and always lively and clean.
Goddesses, Fortuna (Anna Cavaliero) and Virtu (Isabella Cheevers), arrive on stage from the rear of the theatre dressed as SCUBA divers. Soon the distraction of the lights and facial attachments is forgotten as the singing and athleticism of these young artists excel until the last act, the final duet and most poignant moment of the opera. With Nerone (Anna Harvey) and Poppea (Sofia Troncoso) finally together, the SCUBA divers return. Their involvement hinders the enjoyment of this rapturous love scene a result of their successful deceptions. Why do the Goddesses need to be involved? The final scene of Monteverdi’s finest opera reflects the climax of a study of human frailties.
Sofia Troncoso is a determinedly capable performer, with the necessary erotic awareness; Anna Harvey enjoys the chemistry between them. She leads the relationship confidently and shows her anger at Seneca’s goodwill attempt to prevent the dumping of Nerone’s wife, Ottavia. At this point in the opera Seneca (Matthew Buswell) is taken out of the action. Buswell’s performance is hugely successful in bringing an air of moral respectability to Act I, performing an exciting death scene during which he projects his voice well. This is his Longborough début; he deserves to return to this fold in the future.
Any hope of further respectability rests with Ottone (Mathew Paine) who fights hard to retain Poppea’s love. Countertenors are in big demand and Paine, also making his début, will no doubt fill many smaller venues. Hopefully, as his voice develops he will achieve the increased power needed for the bigger halls. Drusilla (Lucy Knight) adores Ottone; this is tested in Act II when he asks for her clothes for a disguise in an effort to deceive Poppea into believing Drusilla is to blame for a murder attempt on Nerone’s mistress. Lucy Knight makes a welcome return to Longborough following small parts in Figaro (2016) and Flute (2017). Blessed with acting skills and a sensuous manner when necessary, she makes a big impact.
Act III sees Drusilla arrested for the proposed deception. Ottone is not completely without scruples and decides to own up to the deception and reveals the involvement of Ottavia (Maria Ostroukhova) in the plans. Once the plot is uncovered, Nerone has no hesitation in dispatching her into exile. Maria Ostroukhova sings her small part encouragingly and has the potential to sing bigger and tougher roles.
As the deceptions develop, so the goddesses present their views of human failings by adding graffiti messages to a large white panel in the background. FOOL 4 LOVE is popular, and WORDS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING ANYMORE is particularly telling.
With a Bush radio a feature of LFO’s first two 2018 productions, the pulling on a ball of wool became a communiqué in the third; now it is the pulling on the train of a wedding dress which maintains the tradition. Longborough audiences recognise these eccentricities and thrive on them. Having enjoyed the wig and tutu worn by Robyn Allegra Parton (Zerbinetta in Ariadne), a deep red wig is worn by Venere (Anna Cavaliero again) during her astonishingly confident feedback verdicts on the many indiscretions.
All this bad behaviour on stage is accompanied by the diligent Jeremy Silver at the harpsichord, bringing together, once again, very professional players of early music instruments including two theorboes and a pleasing viola da gamba to produce a gorgeous accompaniment, in the knowledge there are important messages emanating on stage.
What a fine season Longborough is giving its patrons this year – La traviata’s fallen woman, Ariadne’s ecstatic transformation and now, this Young Artists’ production delivering allegorical messages galore.
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