The Coronation of Poppea: a murderous collaboration

13 October 2023
New co-production by Sydney Conservatorium of Music and NIDA
Australia's two leading performing arts tertiary schools, Sydney Conservatorium of Music and National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), are coming together for a striking co-production of The Coronation of Poppea. It is the world premiere of the Italian version of Claudio Monteverdi's opera with new orchestration by one of Australia's finest composers, Elena Kats-Chernin.
Conservatorium students Eden Shifroni and Daniel Ott in character as Poppea and Nero

Conservatorium students Eden Shifroni and Daniel Ott take on the roles of Poppea and Nero

Directed by David Berthold, NIDA’s Artistic Director In Residence, the bold new production is set to take audiences on a compelling journey through Nero's Rome, exploring themes of power, lust, and betrayal.

“This is indisputably one of the great music dramas,” said David Berthold. “The way it unpacks power and sex is utterly contemporary, and Elena’s new version amplifies that. On the surface, love triumphs. But there is so much cost involved in that triumph that we are forced to consider the beasts and betrayals that might lurk within us.

“Given the raw, human bones of the story and the electric way in which Elena has rebuilt the music, it seemed clear that our production needed to be set and lived in the here and now. It’s a perfect project for young artists and practitioners across so many disciplines from both schools to come together to stretch and strengthen their talents and capacities.”   

Opera students shine

Composite portraits of Eden Shifroni (left) and Daniel Ott (right)

Eden Shifroni and Daniel Ott lead a cast of 16 opera students

The role of Poppea is played by 22-year-old Eden Shifroni, a promising young singer who made the move from jazz to opera, and Nero is played by Daniel Ott, 25, a former rugby-playing student from Maitland, NSW.

The cast of The Coronation of Poppea is made up of 16 opera students from Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the score is performed by 20 student musicians under the direction of conductor, Professor Stephen Mould.

Portrait of composer Elena Kats-Chernin

Composer Elena Kats-Chernin 

“The music is delightful and surprising,” said Professor Mould, who is Senior Lecturer in Conducting and Opera Studies at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He says the reimagined instrumentation by Elena Kats-Chernin includes modern sounds from the electric organ, Hawaiian guitars, banjo, saxophone and temple blocks. There are no violins in this orchestra, only violas and lower strings, alongside an extended percussion section. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music purchased a cimbasso – an instrument between a tuba and a trombone – especially for The Coronation of Poppea.

For this production, the libretto is also back to the original, more beautiful Italian, and the story is set in the here and now, it is full of lust and lies and murder. I love the irreverence of it.
Professor Stephen Mould, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Composer Elena Kats-Chernin, a world-class Australian composer and an alumna of Sydney Conservatorium of Music, said The Coronation of Poppea is “an opera of high emotions, power battles, betrayals and passion. We wanted it to feel modern and have a jazzy feel.”

Creative NIDA students

All design, costume, props and effects, technical theatre and stage management, and scenic construction technology roles are filled by NIDA students. Designs are by Rebecca Howarth and Cosette Mangas. The NIDA Design course is led by award-winning theatre designer Bob Cousins.

The Coronation of Poppea is the third co-production between Sydney Conservatorium of Music and NIDA, an ambitious and ground-breaking partnership between the two major performing arts tertiary institutions. In 2021, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was directed by Kate Gaul, and in 2002, The Magic Flute was directed by Clemence Williams.

In 2024, there is a plan for four brand new short operas created by Composing students from Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Writing students from NIDA.

NIDA CEO Liz Hughes said: “NIDA is excited to collaborate with our friends at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for our third operatic co-production. This valuable partnership will provide over 30 students across Design, Costume, Props and Set Construction and Technical Theatre Stage Management with the important and practical skills needed to take them onto careers in the arts and entertainment industries.” 

The partnership between Sydney Conservatorium of Music and NIDA is truly transformative. It's not just about education; it's about fostering creativity, collaboration, and a deep passion for the arts that will serve our students well in their future careers.
Professor Anna Reid, Dean of Sydney Conservatorium of Music

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