The struggle of the gods is played out by the earth-bound emperor Nero, his lover Poppea, her spurned fiancé Ottone, and the Empress Ottavia, in one of Monteverdi's final operas. In a haunting production by the Oberlin Conservatory's Opera Theater this past week, the wishful notion of the triumph of love turns startling and brutal.
Brutal in the reality of spurned lovers turning murderous, startling as the virtue of loyalty ending in self destruction. And sad in the joy taken in so much pain.
This dark and twisted comedy premiered in 1642, but it's theme is strikingly contemporary--or so we may think, as the gauzy scrim of nostalgia might suggest (wrongly) that times were ever "better", that art was ever more "uplifting". In reality, Monteverdi, the godfather of opera, plumbed the depths of emotion and human frailties in this masterwork, leaving no heroes and no one unscathed.