The Coronation of Poppea
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
About this production
With Cupid on her side and sex as her weapon, no power on earth or in heaven can resist Poppea’s relentless rise from imperial mistress to empress of Rome.
The first opera ever to tackle a real life rather than a mythological theme, Claudio Monteverdi’s seductively sensual swansong blows the dust off ancient Roman history to reveal a rogues’ gallery of all-too-human characters, where the ‘good’ are as flawed as the ‘bad’ and ultimately it’s lust and ambition that win the day.
First seen at the 2008 Festival, Robert Carsen’s staging was hailed in the press as ‘truly adult, intelligent, subtle and strongly focused’ (The Daily Telegraph). Young British conductor Jonathan Cohen assisted on the 2008 run and more recently conducted Les Arts Florissants in the Paris and New York transfers of Glyndebourne’s The Fairy Queen
Introducing the cast
The ‘exquisite’ German soprano Christiane Karg makes her UK opera debut as Poppea, alongside prize-winning South African counter-tenor Christopher Ainslie as her rejected lover Ottone and Italian mezzo Lucia Cirillo (a ‘volcanically sensual’ Dorabella in the 2009 Tour’s Così fan tutte) as the degenerate emperor Nero.
The performance lasts approximately three hours and 15 minutes including a 20 minute interval.
The goddesses of Fortune, Virtue and Love dispute their respective powers. Love vaunts her pre-eminence and claims to be master of the world, as the story of Nero and Poppea will prove.
Ottone arrives outside Poppea’s house at dawn, after serving abroad, to find two of Nerone’s guards lying asleep. He realises that his betrothed Poppea has supplanted him with the Emperor and in cursing her unfaithfulness, wakes the soldiers.
Nerone and Poppea enter and take a sensuous farewell in one of the first of the great love scenes in the opera. Poppea, using all the delaying tactics known to woman, manages to obtain a half promise that she will replace the Empress Ottavia as Nerone’s wife. Left alone with her nurse Arnalta, Poppea ignores her words of advice, as she is convinced that love is on her side.
In her palace, Ottavia laments her humiliation to her old nurse, who tries in vain to comfort her. Seneca is ushered in by Ottavia’s page, Valetto, and he urges her to be stoical and dignified. Incensed by his platitudes, Valetto attacks the old philosopher for his advice. Left alone, Seneca has a vision from the goddess of wisdom who warns him of his impending death. Seneca welcomes this news. Nerone tells Seneca that he plans to leave Ottavia and marry Poppea. The philosopher again urges reason which incenses Nerone to rage and as Poppea arrives to calm him, she suggests that Seneca must be killed.
Ottone makes a final attempt of reconciliation with Poppea and is rejected. In misery, Ottone plans revenge and turns to Drusilla, who has always loved him, and swears that he will favour her over Poppea.
First Mercury appears to Seneca and again warns of his death, followed by Liberto who enters to tell him that Nerone has commanded Seneca’s death by the end of the day. Seneca welcomes his fate and his companions prepare the bath in which he will open his veins. The tension is broken by a flirtation between Valetto and a pretty maid which is followed by Nerone’s celebration of the news of Seneca’s death with wine and song.
Ottone realises that he still loves Poppea and cannot kill her but Ottavia, at her most domineering, persuades him that it is his duty to kill Poppea. Ottone tells Drusilla that he has to commit a terrible crime for which he must disguise himself in her clothes. Drusilla happily offers her garments.
Poppea rejoices in Seneca’s death and as she is lulled to sleep by Arnalta, the goddess of Love appears to watch over her. Ottone, dressed as Drusilla, tries to kill Poppea but is prevented by the goddess. Poppea wakes up and she and Arnalta think that they recognise Drusilla as she runs away. The goddess of Love is triumphant and proclaims that Poppea will become Empress.
Drusilla joyfully anticipates Poppea’s death, but is arrested for the attempted murder and sentenced to death by Nerone. Ottone confesses, despite Drusilla’s protestations, that he was responsible for the attempted crime. Nerone banishes them and announces his plan to divorce Ottavia and send her into exile. Nerone and Poppea rejoice that the way is clear for their marriage and Poppea is crowned Empress. The goddess of Love proclaims her triumph and the opera ends with a final ecstatic duet between Poppea and Nerone.
Conductor Jonathan Cohen
Director Robert Carsen
Revival Director Bruno Ravella
Designer sets Michael Levine
Designer costumes Constance Hoffman
Lighting Designer Peter van Praet
Amore Helen-Jane Howells
Ottone Christopher Ainslie
Poppea Christiane Karg
Nerone Lucia Cirillo
Arnalta Jean Rigby
Ottavia Louise Poole
Drusilla/Fortuna Manuela Bisceglie
Seneca Paolo Battaglia
Nutrice/Friend of Seneca Rachid Ben Abdeslam
Mercurio/Console Duncan Rock
Lucano/Soldier 1/Tribune Peter Gijsbertsen
Glyndebourne on Tour Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Chorus