L’incoronazione di Poppea, Salzburg Festival — dizzying power games

"L’incoronazione di Poppea" in Salzburg

(Financial Times) — The future empress wags her tongue in a live video. Half-naked dancers take turns spinning like a whirling dervish. So much transpires in the first opera production by visual artist and theatre director Jan Lauwers, who also presides over the sets and choreography, that the viewer may feel dizzy.

To be sure, L’incoronazione di Poppea exposes humanity at its most base. With the exception of the philosopher Seneca, who kills himself, each and every character ruthlessly participates in the power games. Some four centuries after it was composed, Monteverdi’s opera still offers an unflinching portrayal of sexual politics. When Sonya Yoncheva (Poppea) and Kate Lindsey (Nero) vocally simulate orgasms, it does not feel out of place.

Lauwer’s collaboration with early music specialist William Christie, leading his ensemble Les Arts Florissants from the harpsichord, accords the soloists an often intriguing freedom of expression. Lindsey, in her debut as the emperor, fearlessly veers from dusky to nasal tones. Yoncheva brings a plush, seductive soprano and touch of vulgarity that is not inappropriate to the role. […]