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S & H Opera Review

MONTEVERDI L'incoronazione di Poppea Trinity College of Music Opera Group and Baroque Ensemble. St Bartholomew the Great, London 13th July 2002 (PGW)


The team of Richard Williams (Director) and Philip Thorby (musical director) have scored another triumph, fielding a double cast of Trinity College of Music students for four performances of Poppea, a scandalous tale of secular hedonism and immorality prevailing to be given in an ecclesiastical setting!

At the Old Naval College Chapel at Greenwich, Williams had impressed with his flare for productions in awkward venues with Purcell's King Arthur, and for Poppea he exploited the grandeur of St Bartholomew's, assisted by David Collis (stage design), Sam Spencer Lane (choreography) and lighting by Neil Sulcher, who bathed the set in red for the emotional high-point of Seneca's suicide to Nero's command. Fortune, Virtue and Love contested their supremacy, and observed the proceedings throughout with ironic detachment. Love descended from the organ console to the stage to save Poppea from imminent murder. Surtitles kept us on track with this first opera about the lives of real people, but were rather rudimentary until we got the full text of Arnalta's exaltation in her good fortune when her protégé achieved the ambition to become Empress. The singing by a large cast (we saw the second cast) was fully adequate but I have not thought it appropriate to review individual performances. Some of the acting was under stated (e.g. the evil Nero, who kicked his new wife to death after a few years). The principals and (non-singing) chorus were choreographed with elegant, stylised gestures and the (non-singing) chorus made an important contribution with their reactions to the events they witnessed. The Trinity College of Music Baroque Ensemble with continuo led by Philip Thorby conducting at the harpsichord, had Ibrahim Aziz (bass violin; see Agnes Kory's lecture) and Linda Sayce on citarrone and baroque guitar to give stylish support to the recitatives and an expanded group with recorders, cornets and strings to accompany the arias and ensembles. A rewarding evening for a full house audience, and a tremendous learning experience for all the participants.

Since their move to Greenwich, Trinity has an enhanced profile and the current Diary of Events for Summer 2002 offers concerts, master classes and competitions, mostly open to the public, at more than a dozen venues in and around London. Website and email:

Peter Grahame Woolf

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