Before he committed suicide at the age of 30, Roman emperor Nero had developed a notorious reputation.
He executed many people during his reign, including his own mother Agrippina, his wife Octavia and his mentor Seneca. He killed his mistress Poppaea while she was pregnant with his child. Afterward, overcome by his loss, Nero found a boy who looked like her, castrated him and married him.
“His life is operatic. Everything about him is operatic,” says composer-in-residence John Peel. “It’s quite a bizarre world.”
Fascinated by the upheaval and contradictions in Nero’s life, Peel began writing an opera about it in 2012, collaborating with Mark Usher, a University of Vermont classics professor. The abuse of power is a major theme of the opera; however another subtheme is the ambition that Nero had for himself as a poet and performer.
On Sept. 18, the first scene of this opera-in-progress, “NERON KAISAR” is debuting in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Hall at St. Hilda’s College in Oxford, England.
“This is an opportunity to see what works. It informs the way I will write the rest of the piece,” Peel says, noting that the opera will have 10 scenes when finished.
“Having a chance to hear it while it’s in progress, this is a joy. You don’t always get that opportunity.”
The scene, “Incipit,” depicts Nero’s coronation ceremony, where Nero is basking in the attention of his people. Opera and oratorio soloists from Oxford and London, along with a chorus, are performing. Gulliver Ralston is conducting.
The performance is taking place in conjunction with a two-day festival of lectures, poetry readings and performances about Greek and Roman drama.
Parts of “NERON KAISAR” were previously performed at Willamette University in the spring of 2013.