by Tim Smith
THE BALTIMORE SUN
Wolf Trap Opera unveiled a classy and sexy new production of the work Friday evening at the Barns of Wolf Trap, tapping much of the musical richness in the score and effectively underlining the libretto’s brilliant mix of nobility, earthiness, stoicism, vanity, sorrow and humor.
Resourceful director Gregory Keller has the action unfolding in such a naturalistic, unaffected manner that it’s easy to forget that this is a 358-year old opera. Aided by Dipu Gupta’s sleek set design and Bobby Pearce’s neo-Roman costumes, Keller’s concept suggests a hybrid of old gladiator movies and hip music videos.
Toss in an assortment of off-color Italian hand gestures, some mature-audience-only behavior (including the de rigueur homo-erotic spin on the scene between Nero and his poet friend Lucano, here set in a bath house), and occasional bursts of silliness (a stuffed toy skeleton, for one) and this “Poppea” certainly makes an arresting visual statement.
The young cast pays keen attention to words and phrases, while offering astute characterizations across the board, and the high level of acting compensates a great deal for any vocal unevenness.
(reprinted in Opera News, November 2000)