The artistic and musical director of Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva, has developed a distinctive style for his productions of Baroque opera. Stylised and austere, yet perceptive and sensual, they blend modern and period elements and make a virtue of measured movement and stillness: tension and expression is achieved without recourse to hyperactivity or exaggeration.
In the Cockpit Theatre’s black box the power games and machinations of Monteverdi’s Ancient Rome are set in the round. The seven-strong instrumental ensemble – propulsive in the score’s many dance-driven episodes – is placed on one side of the playing space.
Each time a character is ruthlessly dispatched by Nerone (and here his victims include Ottavia, Drusilla and Ottone), he or she paints a blood red silhouette on a board before leaving the stage. Among the most mesmerising moments are Arnalta’s lullaby, floating on Kieran White’s concentrated, linear tenor, Ottavia’s farewell – grandly and searingly sung by Sophie Levi – and the closing duet, during which Nerone and Poppea play a kind of erotic, slow-motion pat-a-cake.
Helen May’s sincerity and plangent timbre make the young emperor more sympathetic than he deserves, while Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada, ringing and nuanced of tone as his lover, burns with a cold flame. Eric Schlossberg is vivid in Ottone’s vacillations, his dusky countertenor sparring with the dulcet soprano of Joana Gil as Drusilla, and Gheorghe Palcu makes a firmly stoical Seneca. Maya Wheeler-Colwell delights with her vivacity as Fortuna and Valletto, Celena Bridge is mellifluous and intense as Virtu and Lucano, and Sarah Matousek triumphs captivatingly as Amore.