Handel: Agrippina – review

Pendatchanska/Rivera/Mehta/Fink/Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Jacobs
(Harmonia Mundi, 3CDs, 1 DVD)

René Jacobs's recording of Handel's great examination of maternal ambition and governmental sleaze derives from a 2009 Berlin production. Jacobs courts controversy by presenting an edition based on Handel's first autograph score rather than the familiar revision performed at the premiere. However, his belief that the former is tauter dramatically doesn't always convince. Awkwardly, the last act now contains a higher ratio of recitative to aria than its predecessors. Furthermore, by omitting the scene in which Juno descends from Olympus to bless the political shit-heap that is Rome, Jacobs removes what is arguably the most bitter layer of irony from an opera that should be cutting in the extreme. But the performance is excellent: the recitatives and arias are deftly conducted, flowing seamlessly together. There are a couple of lapses in casting: Jennifer Rivera's Nero is pallid, while Marcos Fink's Claudio sounds too young to be the dirty old man of Handel's imaginings. But Bejun Mehta makes for a staggering Ottone, and Alexandrina Pendatchanska, who should stick to Handel rather than Mozart, is gloriously over the top in the title role. It comes with a DVD of production clips: make sure you watch it, since Rivera is more convincing on stage than on disc.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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