Edmonton, AB—NUOVA Opera and Music Theatre Festival’s second opera was Monteverdi’s last opera, The Coronation of Poppea, first performed in 1643. The festival’s founder, Kim Mattice Wanat, directed the production. She made every effort to bring a period flavour to the production and to the storyline set in ancient Rome, dressing the cast in Roman-looking garments.The five continuo performers, including Baroque specialists cellist Josephine Van Lier and theorbo/Baroque guitarist Jonathan Stuchbery, were led by the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier’s harpsichordist Christopher Bagan. The quality of the instrumental element of Opera NUOVA’s productions have been polished professional for many years now, and this group of five musicians was no exception.
The four performances, July 9 to 14, in contrast to the earlier offering in late June and early July of Menotti’s The Consul, was presented in the soft-seat Triffo Theatre at MacEwan University on a proper stage with a pit. The production was double cast. I saw only the July 10 show.
Several of the singers gave commendable performances, while one or two may have been suffering from nerves. Especially strong was Alla Salakhova in the role of Drusilla; she had the presence of a seasoned performer and sang with an appreciation of both the musical responsibility and the need to project a compelling character.
Several other singers stood out as well. Madeleine Guittierez as Poppea’s nurse Arnalta has a secure contralto timbre, perhaps a little reserved in her projection, but unique in its way. She offered advice to her matron with a directness that conveyed both deference and self-assurance. A few of the singers gained confidence as the two acts unfolded. Camille Labonte as Poppea sang more resonantly as the afternoon went on, and Chihiro Yasufuku as the jilted wife of Emperor Nero, Ottavia, found her fire as her character’s status and prospects diminished. She expressed her indignation at Nero discarding her for his new lover Poppea with a strong musical outburst.
Mattice Wanat cast a countertenor in the role of Nerone: Rain Seran-Senavinin had no problem projecting his arrogance and imperious pronouncements, but his sound is not especially robust, and so at times, the commanding presence he meant to present was less than intimidating, let alone threatening. His call for the philosopher Seneca’s death was rather matter of fact, which may have been the intention, but an edge of viciousness in the singing would have raised the level of drama implicit in his authority.
The role of Seneca was sung by Nicholas Gryniewski, a true bass with generally solid production in the low end of his register. He played the part with a sense of the unappreciated adviser’s conviction and humility. The suicide staging was somewhat confusing. A tub was brought in, where he was meant to slit his wrists, but he cut himself standing up and never really descended into the bath where his life would end. My companion, not knowing the historical background of the scene, didn’t catch its import at all.
The three women who played Amor (Julia LoRusso), Fortune (Taylor Burns) and Virtue (Felicia Wilson) presented the Prologue with a smattering of rivalrous energy, and they did yeoman service in the unambitious choreography. All three sang well.
Mattice Wanet offers Edmonton audiences operas from the canon, but she also programs works that are rarely seen otherwise. The Consul and The Coronation of Poppea were last staged locally fifty years ago. In 2019, the last Opera NUOVA summer festival, she mounted Purcell’s Fairy Queen with the guidance of the Canadian countertenor and early music specialist Daniel Taylor. All the performers are emerging artists; some of whom may find a footing in the profession. But more importantly, Opera NUOVA gives Edmonton opera fans opportunities not only to support budding talent but to experience musical drama that gives a larger perspective to what the history of the genre is and what pieces deserve, but seldom receive, their due.