Theatre Review: The Coronation of Poppea

Mark Ravenhill’s raunchy new production of Monteverdi’s opera THE CORONATION OF POPPEA reworks the original score to wonderful effect.

OPENING with the line ‘What the f*** ?’ Mark Ravenhill’s new libretto for this Monteverdi opera is not going to stretch far from his usual material.

And In his typical style there is lots more raunch, blood and cursing along the way.

Although it may not be new for Ravenhill, he has actually created a suitable setting for the power mad, sex fuelled characters of the original story. Under his direction, the opera includes overuse of the splash pool and cross dressing for laughs, but overall Ravenhill’s style works with the original material.

The music is, of course, what will make or break a new version of an opera and it is here that the show really shines. Alex Silverman has orchestrated for what is essentially a jazz trio of double bass, piano and saxophone. Somehow it works so well that Monteverdi’s score isn’t obscured but enhanced, resulting in some wonderful moments where the two styles merge almost seamlessly never taking away from the initial intention.


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Zo� Bonner is strong and sassy in the title role, while a haunting Seneca (Martin Nelson) displays great emotional depth as Nero’s loyal subject. In fact the whole cast performs with such fluency that there is enough musical delicacy to balance Ravenhill’s flamboyance.

This production is not for the purists or those of a delicate disposition, but OperaUpClose continues to pack them in and spread opera’s appeal across a wider range.

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* Showing at London’s Little Opera House at the Kings Head Theatre, in Upper Street, N1, until Thursday, May 19.

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