Kanen Breen wears a dress – not again!

Last Thursday (well, maybe the Thursday before last by now)  to Angel Place for Pinchgut’s production of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea.

I’d read the publicity/pre show journalism.  This was to be a “contemporary” production.  Call me cynical, but in my experience that mostly means a saving on costumes. “I got into baroque opera through updated productions when I was a teenager so I am really excited with this approach,” said artistic/musical director Erin Helyard.  The Australian Opera’s production of Handel’s Julius Caesar still casts a long shadow – not that they skimped on the costumes there.

At the start a transvestite prostitute cops a beating.- Not clear why – I suppose it was to set up the vicious dog-eat-dog world of Neronian Rome over which Virtu, Fortuna and Amor preside.

It was only later, when the transvestite, now a nurse (in the Romeo & Juliet sense of an older domestic and confidante of a young woman) started singing that I recognized her as Kanen Breen.  In a dressYet again. It’s always good to see him on stage (generally threatening to steal a scene) and his lullaby over Poppea later in the show was one of the best bits in the production.

“It was a stupid production.  Like a cartoon, really” said the female half of the elderly couple ahead of me on the way out afterwards – well not too elderly to be taking the fire escape from Level 3.  “But the music was good.”

There is something in that criticism.  Transplanting to something vaguely Gold Coast sparked things up in some ways but also ran a bit of a risk of trivialising them.  I loved it when Kanen Breen as one of his nurse roles got on the mobile to report the attempt on Poppea’s life.  I felt a bit more equivocal about David Greco’s Seneca as a kind of jokey phoney. That could have been making a virtue of necessity – David Greco is rather light-voiced for a world-historically famous philosopher stage and Top Stoic.  I think I startled my Act I neighbour, a violinist from the AOBO, by saying that when I first saw it done by AO Clifford Grant was Seneca – probably a mixup for Grant Dickson.   But the jokiness rather undercut the famous suicide in the bath scene – given a twist here (I can say this now the run is over) when Nero’s henchmen weren’t prepared to take any chances and suddenly forced Seneca’s head under.  It was a genuinely shocking moment.  “I need a drink after that,” I heard someone say as we streamed out.

One such theatrical coup is OK but the hand was overplayed when two other betrayed plotters – in the libretto permitted by Nero to go into exile – were abruptly chloroformed and borne away.

The scenery obscured it for me but judging by the mimed zipped up fly a cross-sex Poppea lookalike orally obliged Nero.  Gratuitous?  Well, actually it fitted right in with the words and music of Nero’s big aria at the beginning of the second half.

We had live video projection of the wedding at the end – very up-to-the-minute.  It’s all about fame, you see.  (Actually I thought this just a bit laboured and wondered if it was really worth the expense and clutter.)

The overall effect was enjoyable if a bit short on the sublime.  Musical exuberance stood up better in live performance than in the broadcast (available here for another 3 weeks or so) where some of it (not Kanen) sounded a bit vocally rough when I tuned into it the next  Sunday.

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