This DVD of the Glyndebourne production from 2008 has some outstanding singing, particularly from the two key protagonists, the ambitious courtesan Poppea (sung by Danielle de Niese and acted with seductive style) and her lover and eventual husband, the emperor Nerone (Alice Coote). The performance is distinguished too by the extraordinary vocal presence of Iestyn Davies in the role of Poppea’s lover Ottone. He is simply one of the finest counter-tenors I have heard in years.
The performance is worth persevering with just for his revelatory work. Persevering is the right word. This Glyndebourne performance, directed by Canadian Robert Carsen and with sets and costumes by Michael Levine and Constance Hoffram, is one of the most boring productions I’ve seen. Memories of The Australian Opera’s production from the 1990s highlight the paucity of imagination of this production. Everything is red. Red, red, red. The sets consist for the most part of red curtains which open to reveal still more red curtains. The characters sit on stark modern red chairs in front of the curtains. Their costumes are all boring modern dress, which fail to alleviate the boredom of the sets.
There is a lot of gender-bending in the performances, both vocally and in costumes, but this does not evoke Roman decadence, but rather a suburban camp review bar. Not even the presence of the reliable Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment can relieve the ennui this dismal production evokes. In the end, the generally fine singing is appallingly served by the overall crassness of idea and execution.