Festival ZeitRäume Basel to Stage World Premiere of Michael Hersch and Stephanie Fleischmann’s ‘Poppaea’

By Chris Ruel
Photo of Michael Hersch by Richard Anderson

American composer Michael Hersch and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann’s “Poppaea,” will have its world premiere at Switzerland’s Festival ZeitRäume Basel on Sept. 10 & 12, 2021, before moving on to the Vienna and the Wien Modern Festival, Nov. 5-7, 2021. The production is directed by Markus Bothe.

The one-act opera stars soprano Ah Young Hong, a frequent collaborator of Hersch’s. “Poppaea” is the composer’s second opera. His first, “On the Threshold of Winter,” won critical acclaim, with the “New Yorker,” calling him “one of the most prominent composers in the country.”

“Poppaea” picks up where Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” left off, exploring how the Roman Empress suffered abuse while dishing out her own cruelty. The idea came to Hersch after a conversation with Hong, during which the soprano discussed the myriad of emotions she felt while performing the title role in Monteverdi’s opera.

In the press release, Hersch stated, “I went home and read as much of the history as I could find. I was stunned by the comprehensive devastation that ultimately befell Poppaea and her world, spaces far removed from the images of grandeur and pageantry of her in triumph.”

Fleischmann added, “Poppaea, like most women of her time, is largely absent from the record. … The extent of this erasure allowed Michael and me to dream into Poppaea, to conjure a many-shaded character on our own terms, to confront her manifold impulses toward violence, in all their terrifying, consternating, and exhilarating contradictions.”

Hersch is a winner of the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.