A contemporary version of “L’incoronazione di Poppea” (“The Coronation of Poppea”) -- a story of love, deception, murder and betrayal -- will be performed in Italian with English supertitles on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus this spring.

Presented by the University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, the updated version of Monteverdi’s classic opera will be directed by Michael M. Ehrman, artist-in-residence and director of opera at the Bienen School. Stephen Alltop, director of music for Alice Millar Chapel, will serve as the production’s music director.

Performances will take place in Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St. on Northwestern’s Evanston Campus at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25. The production is recommended for mature audiences only and is not suitable for young children.

Monteverdi’s Baroque opera, with libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, centers on Poppea, the mistress of Emperor Nerone, who is determined to ascend the throne -- whatever the costs. “L’incoronazione di Poppea” was among the first operas to portray historical events and actual people as opposed to classical mythology.

Redefining the boundaries of theatrical music, the opera broke new ground in matching song to stage action and reflecting the human attributes of its characters. It is also notable as one of the first operas in which virtue does not triumph against the odds.

Though the original setting is ancient Rome, opera director Ehrman is staging the production  in the early 1960s. Performed by the Bienen School’s Baroque Music Ensemble, the music reflects the instrumentation listeners in composer Monteverdi's time would have heard while providing a more intimate sound.

Ehrman has directed performances at the Houston Grand Opera, Greater Miami Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Minnesota Opera, Chautauqua Opera and Chicago Opera Theater as well as a concert performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at Ravinia last summer. He recently directed the Chicago premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s opera “The Grapes of Wrath” at Northwestern University and he will be returning to the Ravinia Festival this summer.

Alltop has led opera and orchestral concerts with a number of Italian orchestras, including I Soloisti di Perugia, Fondazione Arturo Toscanini (Bologna), Teatro Reggio Orchestra (Parma), Festival Mozart (Roverto), Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari, Teatro Piccinni (Bari), and the Festival Duni (Matera). 

  • Stephen Alltop