POPPEA (5 stars)

This article is from 2007.


Anything goes in a powerful, passionate production

One of the most powerful leaders in the world abuses his position by having an affair and ignoring the will of the people – it’s a concept as familiar today as it was 2000 years ago for the Romans, on whose machinations Claudio Monteverdi based his opera.

Vienna Schauspielhaus brings us Barry Kosky’s version of Monteverdi’s classic, translated by Susanne Wolf, as part of the EIF. It tells the tale of the ambitious Poppea (Melita Jurisic) whose passion-driven manipulation of the infatuated Emperor Nero (Kyrre Kvam) enables her to rise to power as Empress of Rome. It’s a bloody ascent as the philosopher Seneca and Nero’s first wife Ottavia both find themselves unceremoniously removed from the equation as Nero ensures Poppea’s success.
This bold, sinister-sweet reworking breaks all the traditional rules, infusing German opera (with supertitles) with Cole Porter standards in a surprisingly effective medley of classic, contemporary and burlesque. Set in an erotically charged world where the characters are driven by their own pleasure principles in the quest of fulfilment, it exposes the dark side of forbidden love. Sex becomes currency; flesh is joy, hatred, punishment, pleasure and love. Men are in power positions but in a world where sex is power it’s the women who are in control, manipulating situations for their own ends.

Gaining momentum in the second half, the four musicians bombard the senses with their ever changing cacophony of sound. Dressed in revealing, glittering costumes, the gifted cast creates sharp characters each with their own distinctive movements, which perfectly complement Michael Zerz’ innovative design. Flanked with doorways, the set creates the illusion of claustrophobia as the roof appears to grow lower upstage, trapping the characters then forcing them to face themselves in the mirrored walls. This is a unique, powerful and passionate piece in which literally, ‘Anything Goes’.

Royal Lyceum Theatre, run ended.

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