qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

It's not all over until the Fat Female Impersonator Sings

Rain is always a problem during the Proms season: the queue meanders back and forth between the steps and the canopy round the hall, with its attendant scope for reshuffling and distribution of raffle tickets in an improper sequence. For most of the time yesterday, though, it was in an irritating half-state: enough to stop me reading a book, but not enough to retreat under shelter.

This year's "Glyndebourne" Prom brought us Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. For me this was not especially a work of intrinsic interest, but having holidayed last year in Venice it seemed a resonable selection, and an opportunity to see a work of more secular entertainment by a composer noted for his Vespers. kharin described it quite accurately as an "amorality tale" as Poppaea schemes her way to marriage with the Emperor Nero.

Amusingly, at least for those of us near the front, the work commenced with a spot of quasi-improvisation: Monteverdi's prologue, featuring Virtue and Fortune, began with a dispute over standing places in the front row of the Arena! The characters quickly moved to the stage, where they were joined by Cupid. The stage had been set with the orchestra at the front, and the cast used the raised sections towards the rear of the stage. Visually this worked reasonably, though not ubiquitously; acoustically, it was sometimes a bit awkward too.

The role of Nero was originally a castrato; in this production it was taken by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, so this gave the production an Andrew Davies-esque Sapphic edge on occasion as she became amorously entwined with Danielle de Niese as Poppaea. Add to that the roles of Arnalta (sung by tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke) and the Nurse (countertenor Dominique Visse, bearing something of a resemblance to Mrs T), and the fact that Drusilla and Otho swap clothes later, and the plot becomes very confusing indeed. I suspect some of these elements are written for laughs; like Handel's Giulio Cesare a couple of years ago, there was quite a bit of camping up at times. An obvious contrast came from the character of Seneca, sung by bass Paolo Battaglia. Emmanuelle Haïm directed a small Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the organ/harpsichord most demonstratively.

It was a very hot and humid day and the air conditioning in the hall did not really cope with the weather. Combined with a long performance with only a single interval, and an overrun of 20 minutes, and it was quite heavy going. Alhough there were some cuts (and a further couple of scenes were listed as "missing"), the work didn't seem to have much slack. The audience was appreciative of the performance, but also, I suspect, appreciative of its conclusion.
Tags: music
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