This October, members of community groups in Leeds will have the chance to find out more about opera in special introductory performances to The Coronation of Poppea. We spoke to performer Anthony Haddon to find out more.
My security card issued to give me access to Opera North’s rehearsal room has written on it ‘visiting artist number 117’ which tells me two things: firstly, this is a very large organisation and secondly there is someone else walking around with ‘visiting artist 007’, surely giving them a ‘licence to thrill’ (Actually it probably just says 7). Even though I have this official pass into the building, I feel a bit of a fraud because in my thirty years of living and working as an artist in Leeds, I have only ever seen one Opera North production. I am not an opera lover, in fact I’m one step up from an opera virgin, I am an opera novice and yet Madeleine Thorne has signed me up to work on a community engagement programme to attract other opera novices and virgins in the community to embrace the opera experience.
The type of groups we are going to visit are run by organisations who are working with refugees, the homeless and vulnerable adults in the city, which Madeleine has already begun forging relationships with through a previous project encouraging them to attend a performance of La Bohème. So our mission is to create a participatory drama which takes the story of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea and makes it accessible and tantalising enough for our audience to want to come to see the production, and feel well enough informed to enjoy the experience. Not being musical myself, I asked Madeleine (or ‘M’ if we go with the 007 analogy) for the assistance of a musician so that we could bring the elements of drama and music to the groups. Madeleine brought in the musical talents of ‘visiting artist number 118’ Sylvia Hallett, so completing our creative team of three.
I had never heard of The Coronation of Poppea and would probably have confused Monteverdi with Mantovani. I won’t dwell on my ignorance however, because this is a great story about the triumph of love over all and yet it is played out on a backdrop of betrayal, abuse of power, banishment and attempted assassination. So we have Monteverdi in his seventies, writing an opera in 1643 showing a depth of insight into human nature which makes it so relevant to a modern audience. The action takes place around the court of Emperor Nero in Rome and Nero’s decision to go public with his love for Poppea, which he can no longer keep a secret and wants to celebrate by making her Empress of Rome. There are a number of obstacles that stand in his way, one of which is his wife Ottavia and another obstacle is his most trusted advisor Seneca, both of which struggle and ultimately fail to stop the course of true love. And this is where our audience come in, they have the role of advisors to these larger-than-life characters who are dealing with human emotions that we all recognise.
How are the audience going to advise a man who has just come back from the wars to find his loved one in bed with his boss? Or a woman who is in love with a married man? Or a woman whose husband is cheating on her and everyone knows?
We will find out and maybe if our mission is successful we will turn people into opera lovers in the process.
By: Anthony Haddon