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The Coronation of Poppea (Snape)

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely" in Monteverdi's opera at Snape Maltings

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Russell Harcourt, Hannah Pedley (above), Paula Sides (below)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, said the historian. We see this begin to happen immediately after the prologue as Nerone (Helen Sherman) sits brooding, possibly in a drug-enhanced reverie, by the side of his mistress Poppea (Paula Sides).

She first appears as a blonde-wigged school-girl, her obvious pregnancy even more disturbing through this visual image. As Monteverdi insinuates the magic of his luscious, sensual music through the characters' voices and their instrumental accompaniment, the sense of power-hungry decadence intensifies on stage.

There is an analogy with the court of the Red Tsar (Stalin), but it's not over-laboured either by James Conway's direction or Samal Blak's designs. These are people caught in timeless traps, with no obvious way out.

Even the stern philosopher Seneca (a granite-voiced Piotr Lempa) has his flaws, including arrogance. Ottavia (Hannah Pedley) may have brought the throne to her husband but she stands on her dignity to the extent of earning her own downfall. As a sort of Young Pioneer Fortuna in the prologue, that hauteur is already present.

Hannah Sandison's sweet-voiced gentle-personed Druscilla is also Virtue in the prologue, getting her banner upside-down, just as her character does in her relationship with Michal Czerniawski's Ottone.

Some people do set themselves up to be exploited. Not, however, John-Colyn Gyeantey's babushka Arnalta, dispensing homely wisdom but aware that advice may be heard but is seldom acted upon.

Czerniawski and Russell Harcourt as Ottavia's companion are both counter-tenors who can make every note and every word count with Michael Rosewell and the Old Street Band's collaboration.

Stuart Haycock and Nicholas Merryweather are the abettors for Nerone's increasing paranoia, while Jake Arditti presides over Amor's manipulation of the plots and counter-plots with all of a godling's calm faced with merely mortal turbulence.