At Opernhaus Zürich until July 12.

For Calixto Bieito, the plot of L’incoronazione di Poppea has all the ingredients of a good Shakespeare drama: sex and crime, politics and poetry. When speaking of Shakespeare, his oft-cited sentence ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women just players’ comes to the mind.

Rebecca Ringst, L'incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus
Rebecca Ringst, L’incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus

For Bieito the line could be replaced with ‘All the world’s a catwalk’. “The whole world is a catwalk,” Bieito says. “Everyone plays a continuous role. And once you get used to it—in politics as well as in the fashion world—to constantly play a role, you eventually lose the sense of where the role ends and the ‘real’ life begins.”

Rebecca Ringst, L'incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus
Rebecca Ringst, L’incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus

The elliptical catwalk that Rebecca Ringst built as a setting is a platform of vanity and narcissism, it is meant as a metaphor for our world today. “It’s about how we present ourselves on Facebook and Instagram day after day,” Bieito says, “constantly posting selfies of ourselves, expressing our opinions on Twitter without hesitation, no matter how extreme or hurtful they may be to others. It seems to me that many people today are real exhibitionists. Discrete people are much harder to find.”

Rebecca Ringst, L'incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus
Rebecca Ringst, L’incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus

Bieito and Ringst had the idea of Poppea playing around the orchestra on the elliptical catwalk, an arena where the characters and reality are observed multidimensionally from different perspectives. The layout also creates proximity to the audience but also closeness between singers and orchestra, creating an atmosphere that takes into account the intimacy and chamber music character of Monteverdi’s opera.

Rebecca Ringst, L'incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus
Rebecca Ringst, L’incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus

The set configuration implied some technical problems, as the orchestra pit at the Zurich opera house is not visible from all seats in the upper galleries, so the team created a grandstand on stage to accommodate extra spectator seats. An entanglement of musicians, singers, and audience accentuated by the use of live video displayed on the big surfaces surrounding the ellipse.

Rebecca Ringst, L'incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus
Rebecca Ringst, L’incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus

There are live cameras constantly filming the characters. “It’s like a voluntary 24-hour monitoring,” Bieito says. “And the characters love to see themselves on a screen all the time. It is the permanent self-expression.” Not a new phenomenon, Bieito underlines. When he worked at a festival in Bogotá in the 1990s, the festival director was followed day and night by a camera that filmed everything she did, no matter how unimportant the activity was.

Rebecca Ringst, L'incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus
Rebecca Ringst, L’incoronazione di Poppea | Dir. C. Bieito | Photo © Monika Rittershaus

Direction Calixto Bieito, set design by Rebecca Ringst, costumes by Ingo Krügler,  light design Franck Evin, video-design Sarah Derendinger.

Source: Opernhaus Zürich