Handel: Agrippina

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Agrippina plus bonus DVD ‘Facing Agrippina: A film by Nayo Titzin’
PERFORMER: Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Jennifer Rivera, Sunhae Im, Bejun Mehta, Marcos Fink, Neal Davies, Dominique Visse, Daniel Schmutzhard; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 952088.90

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Written for Venice in 1709, Agrippina is a work of audacious musical and psychological sophistication. Wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, its heroine is the baddest of Handel’s bad-girls: a ruthless sexual and political manipulator whose character would shape those of her son and his concubine, Poppea. Of Handel’s Italian operas, this was the only one to have been composed for an Italian audience.
 
Along with its Lullian overture, we have Neapolitan cavatinas, instrumentation of Roman brilliance and, in René Jacobs’s meticulous reconstruction, a duet (‘No, no, ch’io non apprezzo’) that looks back to Cavalli in its languid, circling sensuality.
So many influences, so many styles, yet the voice is distinctly that of Handel. Drawn from Vincent Boussard’s Berlin Staatsoper production, Jacobs’s performance is electric. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin matches the singers in virtuosity from the military dazzle of ‘Allegrezza, allegrezza!’ to the pinched suspensions and sighing oboe of ‘Voi che udite il mio lamento’.
 
The casting is luxurious, with Marcos Fink as the emperor Claudio, Neal Davies and Dominique Visse as lustful Pallante and Narciso, and Sunhae Im as Poppea. Her journey from vestal virgin to vamp moves in parallel to Nero’s progress from hedonist to monster, though the accompanying DVD, Facing Agrippina, reveals Jennifer Rivera (Nero) to have been more compelling on stage than on disc. Deadly and glamorous, Alexandrina Pendatchanska’s Agrippina is indefatigable in both mediums, the antipode to Bejun Mehta’s incorruptible hero, Ottone. Anna Picard