Handel: Agrippina / Malgoire, Gens, Jaroussky, Deletre

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This, one of Handel's most approachable, delightful, and least-confusing operas, dating from 1709--his "Italian" period--has been well recorded in performances led by John Eliot Gardiner (Philips) and Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi). Both are complete--and more than three hours long. This present recording pares down the opera to two hours and 45 minutes--mostly in the recitatives (which are wonderfully written, dramatic, and help develop character, but also which, much to my shame, I didn't miss a bar of), and in the loss of two or three arias. (At the close of the opera, Juno descends to bless the marriage of Ottone and Poppea; here her music is missing, and that's a loss.) Even in such a "reduced" state the work's witty competition between two manipulative women--Agrippina, who wants her son Nero to be emperor and will do almost anything to get him there, and Poppea, who loves the slandered Ottone and wants the power that will come with his being named emperor--and the interplay of the lusty Nero, the somewhat slow-witted Claudius, and Agrippina's hangers-on, Pallas and Narcissus, is vivid and clear.

The cast is excellent, with a few standouts. Thierry Grégoire, as Ottone, rises to great heights in his second-act lament, complete with stunning, sad trills. Ingrid Perruche's Poppea is a tough cookie from the start, and she cajoles throughout. She has a lovely tone and is fluent in coloratura; she makes much of all of her arias, but she really shines in the last act's "Bel piacer". Nigel Smith sings Claudius' music with proper pomposity, and even manages the low-Cs in his second-act aria. Veronique Gens' Agrippina is conniving and rich-toned; indeed, the role lies in an almost mezzo range and she seems perfectly comfortable. Philippe Jaroussky, a very high, bright, fluent countertenor, takes some getting used to--he sounds much like a woman most of the time--but he's a brave, expressive singer and he creates a Nero who vibrates. The others in the cast are very good, although Fabrice di Falco, the Narciso, begins by sounding like an old lady.

Jean-Claude Malgoire's leadership is bright and perky, with the recits paced conversationally, and his band plays well--the winds are particularly spicy. This is a live recording, and at the start Jaroussky is off-mike for a minute and occasionally other voices are not quite centered, but the audience is remarkably quiet. A duet in Act 1 for Claudio and Poppea ends a bit raggedly, but the "liveness" of the occasion excuses it. In short, this is recommended--it's a good show.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DYN-CDS431

  • UPC: 8007144604318

  • Label: Dynamic

  • Composer: George Frideric Handel

  • Conductor: Jean-Claude Malgoire

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy

  • Performer: Alain Buet, Bernard Delétré, Fabrice Di Falco, Ingrid Perruche, Nigel Smith, Philippe Jaroussky, Thierry Gregoire, Véronique Gens