Nestled in the Cotswoldshire countryside, Longborough Festival Opera’s reputation for quality, ambitious productions continues to grow amid its bounteous, rolling landscape, with the 2019 programme having been announced at the close of this highly acclaimed year of music. LFO is a special experience, and it’s well worth arriving in plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and admire the views of the spectacular Evenlode Valley over a chilled glass of champagne from one of the well stocked bars. I just can’t understand why some people would exchange the panoramic views of the Cotswolds for a car-park picnic, but each to their own.
Longborough’s 90 minute dining interval allows the audience the chance to discuss the performance over a picnic in one of the substantial marquees, tuck into the Valley Buffet including a generous selection of cold meats, seasonal salads and desserts, or dine (as we did) in the Coach House Restaurant, where a three course menu was catered by dedicated on-site restaurateurs, The Old Butchers of nearby Stow-on-the-Wold.
The last but by no means least of this year’s Longborough productions (performed in an internal auditorium seating 500) and following hot on the heels of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, Verdi’s La Traviata and the Strauss masterpiece Ariadne auf Naxos, is a new heavily supported Young Artist production of Monteverdi’s ground-breaking work L’incoronazione di Poppea, the first ever opera to deal with real-life and not solely mythical characters.
Dedicated to helping emerging artists launch their careers, the Young Artist project, with annual auditions taking place to discover the finest young singers looking to break into the industry, has proved an admirable launchpad for a new generation. The talented Sofia Troncoso led this stark, modern-styled production of L’incoronazione di Poppea directed by Jenny Miller with designs by Nate Gibson, while Jeremy Silver of the Oxford-based period instrument orchestra ‘Instruments of Time and Truth’, conducted this passionately soulful score from a harpsichord, with two theorboes and a viola da gamba giving us a faithful representation of the original sound Monteverdi created in 1603.
With a somewhat awkwardly constructed libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, L’incoronazione di Poppea was first premièred in Venice during the 1643 carnival season, although it’s subject matter, revolving around lust, treachery and adultery was far from light-hearted. With a breathtakingly rich and undulating musicality, as mesmerising to audiences four hundred years on, it tells the complicated history of Emperor Nero (Anna Harvey) and his lover Poppea as he seeks to cast off his wife and anyone who stands in his way.
The powerful Troncoso, mezzo-soprano Harvey and countertenor Matthew Paine as Ottone who fights to retain Poppea’s love, are the outstanding members of a cast who otherwise show their vocal and acting inexperience. An opening series of Goddesses, portrayed as temperamental, backpack-wearing girl-gang teenagers who write graffiti to reflect the themes of the unfolding drama, is a far from sympathetic interpretation of what proved a landmark moment for opera. The stand-out performances were nevertheless more than enough to redeem this L’incoronazione di Poppea and deliver a highly enjoyable evening filled with impressive arias and duets worthy of the pioneering composer.
The reviewer saw L’Incoronazione di Poppea at Longborough Festival Opera on 2 August 2018. Sung in Italian with English subtitles. The 2019 Longborough Opera Season has just been announced. Click here for the full programme and how to book. Images by Matthew Williams-Ellis.