On the evening of 19 January, visitors to London’s V&A will be able to enjoy a reprise of our hypnotic installation and performance I Am Yours, Yours Am I, based on the stunning duet aria ‘Pur ti miro’ from Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea.
First seen at Light Night Leeds in October 2014 and subsequently performed at Latitude Festival in 2015, I Am Yours, Yours Am I makes its London debut in the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries as part of the programme of events accompanying the landmark exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics.
Every ten minutes between 5.30pm and 9.30pm, at the chime of a clock, a living automaton of singers and musicians will spring into action in a courtyard full of music, light and sound, bringing to life one of the most beautiful and unsettling love songs ever written.
The climactic aria from the 1643 opera, ‘Pur ti miro’ is an exchange of adoration between Nerone (the Roman emperor Nero) and his mistress and Empress-to-be, Poppea. Their fulfilment at the end of the opera marks a break from traditional dramatic morality, with the virtuous punished and the lustful couple rewarded for their wickedness.
The roles of Nerone and Poppea were both written for sopranos, but Nerone is normally sung by a countertenor - historically a castrato. In recent productions female sopranos, mezzos or even male tenors have been cast in the role. I Am Yours, Yours Am I will feature three different voice pairings: a soprano and a mezzo, a soprano and a countertenor, and a soprano and a tenor, taking turns to perform the piece.
Jo Nockels, Projects Manager, Opera North, comments:
Our staging of the aria draws out the ambiguities of sexuality, gender and power which were present in Monteverdi’s era, are embodied in his writing, and which can seem strikingly contemporary to us today.
The complicated morality of Poppea is also referred to, with the symbolically-charged song of a nightingale hinting at the real-life Poppea’s dark end at the hands of Nero, which happened not long after the action described in the opera, and which has traditionally brought a strong sense of irony to the 'happy ending’.
Writing in late 2017, New Yorker critic Alex Ross finds another contemporary resonance in the triumph of vice in Poppea: ‘In Neronian America, such undeceived realism seems more modern than the idealism of so many Romantic-era operas.’
I Am Yours, Yours Am I, was can be experienced in the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries between 5.30pm and 9.30pm on Friday 19 January. Entry is free.
The performance follows on from the live streaming of our Whistle Stop Opera for the BBC’s #OperaPassion day in October 2017, which was also tied in with the V&A exhibition.
I Am Yours, Yours Am I, The Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, Light Night 2014. Credit Malcolm Johnson.
I Am Yours, Yours Am I, Latitude Festival, August 2015. Credit Victor Frankowski.