The Electric Guitars of Claudio Monteverdi
UW-Whitewater Stages Claudio Monteverdi’s THE CORONATION OF POPPEA
The story of Poppea is an interesting one. A mistress of the Roman Emperor Nero back in the mid-first century, she lived to see herself crowned Empress of Rome. Her story was immortalized in a very, very early opera by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. The classic opera gets a semi-contemporary staging later on this month as UW-Whitewaterpresents an English translation of the classic. Stage director Jim Butchart and music director Robert Gehrenbeck have also modernized the ancient story of ascension to power. “My choice to use modern dress with some elements that represent the period of the action is to help the audience recognize the parallels that exist between then and now,” says Butchart in the press release.
The amazing thing about this update—aside from it looking distinctly modern…is the use of the electric guitar. This is almost certain to upset purists. Les Paul and Claudio Monteverdi never met. There were a few hundred years separating the two of them. So why add in an instrument that would’n’t’ve come into being until well after the death of the composer? Gehrenbruck from the press release: “When this opera was written, composers were creating music that depicted strong emotions. Audiences will hear the electric guitar sound coincide with moments of agitation on stage… and there are a lot of those moments.” Having talked to more than a few purists over the years, it pleases me to know that UW-Whitewater is looking to modernize an opera like this. No, it’s not anything new, but actions like this keep old work fresh for new audiences. Museum Theatre is really nice and everything . . . I once enjoyed an all-male production of Taming of the Shrew, but things progress for a reason. And if traditional opera still wants to remain relevant, it needs to keep evolving like the rest of the world.