Coronation of Poppea

King's Lynn Festival: Houghton Hall

Due to inclement weather earlier in the day, the staging of Monteverdi's opera was transferred from outside Houghton Hall to inside the small estate church. Although the weather brightened, it was too late to revert to the original setting.

Imaginative use was made of the small space and facilities by director Jennifer Hamilton. In this performance, the international opera ensemble was accompanied by the Creakes Baroque Sinfonia conducted by Eva Hallberg.

The world's first public opera house opened in Venice in 1637 and Poppea was produced in 1642, when Monterverdi was 75. It tells of Nero's love of Poppea and his plot to rid himself of his wife Octavia, allowing him to make Poppea his empress.

This has a large cast with many fine singers from across the world. Such was their general quality that it is impossible to comment fairly on all of them. However, Rachel Smith as Otho (the trouser part), Anna Burford (Octavia) and Edwin Hawkes as Seneca deserve special mention, their voices and singing can only be described as absolutely brilliant. The Creake Sinfonia playing on authentic instruments contributed greatly to the performance. Unlike later operas, the work has few arias but is largely in the form of recitative.

I found the modern dress for the cast somewhat incongruous, bearing in mind the medieval setting and authentic instruments. For example Mercury, messenger of the Gods, arrived in motorcyclist's gear. However, this did not detract from the quality of the performance.

The church has no mains electricity, the power for the lights coming from a generator. Having just returned to our seats after the interval, there was a loud bang and all the lights went out. After some time, during which we were entertained by the Sinfonia busking, we were told the engineer was unable to restore power and that moving scenery and furniture in near darkness would be dangerous. A potted version of the second act would be presented. About five vocal numbers were linked by a narration, all by the small amount of light provided by torches and parking lanterns, certainly a memorable evening.

Most Read

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter