Few historical figures seem more suited to the heightened passions of opera than Poppaea Sabina. Born in Pompeii in 30AD, divorce from her first two husbands oiled her Machiavellian way to marriage with the Emperor. Nero, for his part, had his own mother killed to prevent objections. He also executed Poppea’s first husband (and later drowned their first child), posted her second husband, Marcus Salvius Otho, off to Lusitania and, when criticised, ordered his morally outraged tutor Seneca to...

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