The Coronation of Poppea (Grimeborn Festival, 29 August 2014)

Grimeborn is supposed to be the opposite of (and poke fun at) Glyndebourne and in many ways it is. It takes place at the Arcola Theatre, a venue in the heart of Dalston (within earshot of the Dalston Junction Overground station). Dalston has been considered a hip, arty area for a while now, long enough to wonder if it still is seen so. I leave these considerations to those who care more than I do. Fact is, the venue looks like a disaffected factory, all brickwork and steel frames. It’s got that East London “wine bar” charm to it, similarly buzzing with youthful chatting before the show and during the intermission. It’s manned by a lot of young people. But the audience last night was more or less around the same age as you’d get at ROH, only now they were going for the casual look.

Monteverdi kicks off a season (for me) steeped in pre-19th century works1. There are also a number of new venues I am visiting in an effort to broaden my horizons.

  • Fortune/Ottavia: Maria Ostroukhova Grimepoppea
  • Virtue: Rose Stachniewska
  • Love: Caroline Kennedy
  • Ottone: Ben Williamson
  • Soldier #1/Nutrice: Tim Morss
  • Soldier #2/Liberto/Lucano/: Gwilym Bowen
  • Poppea: Elizabeth Holmes
  • Nero: Stephanie Marshall
  • Arnalta: Rosie Aldridge
  • Seneca: James Fisher

Musical Director: Christopher Glynn | Eboracum Baroque | Harpsichord: Ian Tindale | Director: Nina Brazier | a Ryedale Opera Festival production

I really enjoyed the intimate feel of the 9 piece orchestra. The strings + trumpet2 were perched high above the tiny stage (on a small balcony, across from the balcony per se), to the left. The harpsichord, harp, theorbo and organ were, as you can glimpse, behind the singers. I suppose it feels more or less how it did when the work was first performed. Now I don’t want to hear this stuff done any other way3… The harpsichord accompaniment specifically stood out for me – gently supporting the singers.

Those colourful boxes (plus some dress forms “dressed as” different characters) were the stage design. They were arranged (by the singers themselves) in different positions to suggest Poppea’s bed, Ottavia’s desk, Seneca’s bath or the podium where Nero and Poppea towered like godlike creatures at the end. A word has to go out to the lovely, Mediterranean-inspired dresses for the female characters. Nero himself was, as you can see, white-shirt happy, Seneca wore a three piece suit, the soldiers had WWI hats, Ottone looked like he came from the audience itself.

The singing wasn’t bad across the board, although I think all could use more work on their trills. Stephanie Marshall’s were the best trills of the bunch but I’d have liked a less bright voice for Nero. Maria Ostroukhova’s Ottavia had a gorgeously warm voice for a thankless role. Poor Ottavia and Seneca (who was made to look like a fool by all), there’s no winning for them and it’s not like they’re doing much to deserve it. It’s a cruel, glib, tongue-in-cheek comedy, eh?

The acting was by and large convincing and enthusiastic, very good timing for comedy. For the bit where Nero and Lucano sing about how good it is to be rid of Seneca/how hot Poppea is, the singers pushed the harpsichord player away and kidnapped the instrument! Nero brought his own notebook of songs. Cool point, seeing as how Nero dabbled in poetry and music and generally behaved in “whimsical” ways.

All in all, a very entertaining evening. I hope somebody – anybody – brings Il ritorno d’Ulisse around soon 😉 now that ROH is finally staging L’Orfeo at the Roundhouse.


  1. But why did everybody around here forget about Gluck’s anniversary?! 
  2. All of them looking very sleepy. 
  3. I tend to grumble there’s not enough of this stuff (as in, none) at ROH but it’s probably for the better. 
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About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on August 30, 2014, in baroque, historical timeline and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. It’s been a while since anyone has done any Monteverdi here but there have been a couple of Cavalli productions

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  2. oh thanks for the intro.. they <– boston early music festival, bemf for short, are staging all 3 of his operas here in boston next summer. i can only hope (a) they don't bring in herds of CTs and (b) dress them all up in very traditional boring clothes (they tend to do from my last experience).. i'd vote for moving boxes to make stage and white shirt every time!

    i heard il ritorno d’Ulisse for the first time ever this past summer in Zürich (with sara mingardo) and reallllllly love the music and orchestra (La Scintilla). small ones make the sound soo fresh and alive (in contrast to strauss on next post one could say 🙂 ). i'd sign up for 9-piece orchestra anytime too! (surely it had a viola da gamba? possibly baroque piccolo..)

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    • no viola da gamba or piccolo: 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 trumpet, 1 Baroque harp, 1 harpsichord says the program, but there was a portable organ as well.

      yea, the humongous Strauss orchestra was a bit of a change 😉 I think he does “tremendous” as well as, say, Monteverdi does simplicity.

      I figure they’ll do Ritorno here at some point as they seem to be making their (very slow) way through all of them at the Barbican.

      I want to go see something in Zurich at some point, I tend to like their productions, they’re wacky in a good way. And I like the local scenery. Wish I could also get to Boston for that nice Monteverdi treat. What can I say? If I won the lottery I’d just travel from one opera venue to another all year round!

      I don’t mind CTs, we have some good ones locally but I prefer a CT/mezzo combo if possible.

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  3. Hi admin of this blog, do you allow guest posting ?
    Please let me know, i am interested 🙂

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