The Coronation of Poppea

Date 12th May 2022
Society North Norfolk Chamber Opera
Venue St Margaret' Church, Cley next the Sea
Type of Production Opera
Director Paul Hands
Musical Director Mark Jones


Author: Susan DuPont

After performing last year in concert version at St Margaret’s Church with the excellent acoustics, what a good idea to return to the venue, although now performing at west end in Crispin Clark’s minimalist atmospheric set. A return of the production team meant a very hard working MD Mark Jones playing keyboard throughout, conducting with his string quartet, and controlling those in action on stage.

A piece of the period,(early Baroque), Coronation of Poppea offers 10 female leads which must prove an excellent choice for the group with talents, although this Monteverdi proved challenging and required extra tuition in rehearsal to reach the required standard so that all could be satisfied with the product, whihc was much enjoyed by the sell-out audience on first night.

A Prologue with Goddesses Fortune, Virtue and Love introduced the action with Love (Catherine Joule) in control. The beautiful  Poppea (Melissa Sampson) is the honey pot in Rome with Emperor Nero (Katherine Jones) amongst the many in thrall to her, and what a well-matched pair for looks and voices, convincing throughout particularly in that finale duet when all has gone their way. Sadly for Otho (Julie Bjerregaard) a previous lover, his time is over and after  an episode to destroy Poppea for Octavia (Alexandra Denman) the current Empress, returns to his previous love Drusilla (Denise Bridge lively and clear diction) to give one satisfactory ending. Lively Valetto (Lizzie Hawes) as page offered some mischief in intrigue. The nurses still hold sway over their charges and offer timely advice, Armalta from Gilly Morgan to Poppea in strong words and soothing songs, and Susanne Smith to Octavia, although advice not taken.

Nero has his friends and advisors when he says he will make Poppea his Empress, Lucan in strong voice from Des Holmes, and the philosopher Seneca from Peter Walters, the latter being threatened to death for his advice (to the delight of Poppea), both good vocals as contrast to all the sopranos, as well as Guy Hewitt as Mercury, who delivers the death message to Seneca.

Good ensemble concerted moments with all cast involved in the set piece, of stylised movements, after the death of Seneca preceding the moment of Coronation of Poppea.

Concentration was needed to remind one of who is playing a ‘in tunic soprano male’ to keep the story in mind, but many highlights from the score in this rarely performed opera.