Rice’s L’incoronazione di Poppea Admired by Arts Nerd

It just dawned on me recently that I am an arts nerd. I alert my Facebook friends when I have a new blog post, and I can just see them rolling their eyes – there she goes again –waxing on about some odd opera thing or other.

So I am going to put it to you, my tiny audience, shall I continue as I am or switch over to cute dog pictures or a baking diary?

But before we ax this whole thing, I must let you know about the really incredibly professional performance I saw last Tuesday of L’incoronazione di Poppea at Rice University’s Wortham Theatre.

Over all it was so well done – way beyond expectations for a college opera program – that one of my arts nerd sidekicks said it was the best Coronation he had ever seen or ever hoped to see!

The singing was not just adequate, but all in all very beautiful. The acting was accomplished (great direction does not hurt!). The set design and costumes were better than many a professional opera production. 

The small orchestra conducted by Richard Bado was filled out with two harpsichords, organ, archlute, guitar, and baroque cello, plus a regular string section and two onstage trumpeters who added some real pomp to the coronation scene itself. So we got period instruments and the whole shooting match.  Did I mention all the players were excellent and Mo. Bado a winning conductor? Well, they were and he was.

Standout performers were:

  • Carlton Ford as Ottone who demonstrated excellent body expression and acting and who used his lovely baritone voice so expressively.
  • Chelsea Morris as Poppea (five costume changes – wow!!) who connived in such a beautiful way with her crystal clear, lyric soprano voice.
  • Brenton Ryan as Nero whose chiseled blond good looks did not stop him from becoming the lustful, power mad, sleazy emperor. More stage movement excellence here. The tenor’s dramatic singing was above reproach.
  • Carolyn Sproule as Ottavia (three costumes).  OK, she was mad that her husband was having a notorious affair, and she schemed to have the slut woman killed, but her dramatic soprano instrument was so pleasing to the ear, we couldn’t blame her!
  • Amy Owens as Drusilla had a smaller part, but she made a big impact with her crisp, flowing soprano and some excellent acting.
  • Tyson Miller as Arnalta, confidante of Poppea.  Tyson is a young man, but I was unaware of this fact until I got home and studied the program. Sure, I thought ‘she’ looked like a mannish woman, and had an awfully BIG voice, but he convinced me with his female movement and gestures. Aside from the gender issue, this comic role was expertly executed with a singular style.
  • Lauren Iezzi as Ottavia’s confidante possesses a gorgeous dark low mezzo that will take her far; Daniel Sherill and Joseph Mishler, as the two soldiers in Act I, possessors of two very different but pleasing and well-delivered tenor voices.

 I am stopping myself now, or I will list the entire cast as standouts, because truly they were.

The opera ends as the newly married couple sings an exquisite duet in counterpoint, beautiful enough to make you forget how bad they are. The characters who were sacrificed – now either dead or banished – to make their union possible appear behind them.  It was an excellent and satisfying touch to end an outstanding performance.

PS I would dearly love to have a nice photo of this production. I can add it in later. Pre-thanks to whoever can send me one. laurienow@comcast.net 

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