Agrippina – Handel – Royal Opera House
In a joint production with Munich and four other Opera Houses the opera director Barrie Kosky has put together an interesting and illuminating up-to-date version of Handel’s earliest complete opera, which premiered in 1707 in Venice.
In true Handelian style the 31 year old Russian Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev is a caricature of Handel and all men of that time. He performs with a vibrating head mop outstandingly conducting the orchestra and at the same time playing an ancient harpsichord as part of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. His was perhaps the virtuoso performance of the night, pulling together extraordinary sounds and melting emotion from the orchestra, rising to a crescendo as the scheming Agrippina sings her final love aria to her husband Emperor Claudio in perhaps the passionate highlight of the evening.
Joyce DiDonato as Agrippina was both vocally and physically outstanding in the title role and she filled the stage and auditorium with her presence. It was a consummate performance as she fought to persuade her husband Claudio to crown her son Nero as Emperor.
Her vicious looking pipsqueak of a son was sung by the countertenor of the night, the Argentinian Franco Fagioli, whose vocal range was extraordinary and included a revelatory top C. There were three other countertenors, the Narciso of Eric Jurenas, the Lesbo of Jose Coca Loza and the outstanding Lestyn Davies singing a noble Ottone, who was in love with Poppea, sung by the British soprano Lucy Crowe. Hers was a sumptuous performance – as was her huge yellow dress at the end – marked with great lyricism, energy and comedy. The Italian bass Gianluca Buratto sung a deep rended version of Claudio, but in Kosky’s production he was too often without trousers!
This brings us to Kosky’s somewhat edgy production centred around a stage with a moveable rectangular box from the Set Designer Rebecca Ringst. This box represented different rooms covered by blinds for various scenes. Kosky’s genius together with that of his colleagues, Costume Designer, Klaus Bruns and Lighting Designer Joachim Klein was at show many times during the performance. He directed a hilarious Poppea bedroom scene towards the end of the opera and an incredibly emotional love scene between Agrippina and Claudio. His final touch of allowing DiDonato to sing her final few notes in the auditorium with a microphone was stunning.
So another four hours of Handel passed in no time at all and all can be proud of what they achieved with even the wonderful Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment applauding the production and cast at the end.