L’Incoronazione di Poppea Longborough Festival Opera by Richard Bratby

Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea is an opera without a moral. The Emperor Nero – whom no-one with even a smattering of classical history is ever likely to confuse with Alan Titchmarsh – lusts after the beautiful Poppea, and nothing will stop him. Wives, opponents and advisors are simply exiled, vanquished or driven to suicide until the blissful moment when Nero and his squeeze stand unchallenged as rulers of Rome, singing some of the most meltingly sexy music of the entire baroque era.

It’s fabulously wicked. Obviously some higher power felt that Longborough Festival Opera’s new production was too convincing for comfort, because half way through Act One a thunderstorm burst over the Cotswold scarp and knocked out the theatre’s electrics. It’s testimony to the skill and professionalism of the Longborough team that after an unscheduled interval and a lot of damp early picnics, it was up and running again only an hour behind schedule.

So if there were moments of shaky ensemble on the first night of Jenny Miller’s staging, blame Olympus. The setting is a semi-abstract labyrinth. A trio of demigods appear as a boisterous girl-gang, and the drama sucks you straight in – not least because the singing is so consistently vivid and fresh, and the sensual chemistry between Nerone (Anna Harvey) and Poppea (Sofia Troncoso) is so unambiguous.

The surrounding cast are young and committed, but only Matthew Buswell as voice-of-reason Seneca projects quite enough authority to seem a real obstacle to the two lovers. His death scene is gripping. Otherwise, with Jeremy Silver conducting a spirited period-instrument orchestra, it’s sin – charming, smouldering and utterly shameless - all the way. You’ll love it: just bring an umbrella.

Richard Bratby

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