Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli, Elsa Benoit, Luca Pisaroni, Jakub Józef Orlinski, Andrea Mastroni, Carlo Vistoli, Biagio Pizzuti, Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Il P’omo d’Oro/Maxim Emelyanychev
Erato 9029533658 229.41 mins (3 discs)
This Agrippina jostles for top place among the opera’s complete recordings. Joyce DiDonato is matchless in the title role, most other cast members likewise outstrip rivals and their vocal qualities are ideal for their dramatis personae. Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev repeatedly hits the sweet spot in his tempos, dynamics and realisations, the score aiming to mirror Handel’s lost original.
In the story, Agrippina connives for her weakling son Nerone to replace second husband Claudio as Roman Emperor. Claudio, thought lost at sea, returns and plans to resign the Empire to Ottone, the officer who rescued him. Agrippina enlists sex-kitten Poppea, with whom Ottone, Nerone and Claudio are all in love, to turn Claudio against Ottone. Truth wins out thanks to Ottone gaining Poppea’s love, and her plot unravels.
DiDonato commands the vocal pyrotechnics, dramatic depth, personal charisma and absolute diction that her role demands. Who else can, in recitative alone, be by turns terrifying, funny and heart-breaking? In arias, her runs are compelling and her bare lines gorgeous. Elsa Benoit brings a saucy brilliance to Poppea’s allegro passages, and a plush sensuality to her slower movements. Capturing Nerone’s hysteria in hard-edged diminutions, Franco Fagioli embraces and then outpaces Emelyanychev’s most furious beat. As Ottone, Jakub Józef Orliński matches DiDonato in depth.
This recording hides its origins in a 2019 live festival concert, which is unfortunate. If, by the third disc, Fagioli is occasionally a bit sharp, or an obbligato passage sounds a bit perfunctory, we should know that the artists have been, brilliantly, performing for hours
Find more about Handel and his works here