~ HWV 6 ~
Recorded in 2003.
Released in 2004.
Agrippina: Véronique Gens, soprano
Nerone: Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Poppea: Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi, soprano
Claudio: Nigel Smith, baritone
Ottone: Thierry Grégoire, countertenor
Pallante: Bernard Deletré, baritone
Narciso: Fabrice Di Falco, countertenor
Lesbo: Alain Buet, bass
La Grand Écurie et la Chambre du Roy (on period instruments)
Conductor: Jean-Claude Malgoire
(Recorded live at the Théâtre Municipal, Tourcoing, France.)
After three years of success in Italy, mainly thanks to his cantatas, serenades and oratorios, Handel was at last able to produce an opera on the most renowned stage in Venice, the San Giovanni Grisostomo theatre, property of the Grimani family. To have an opera performed on Venetian stages, particularly on prestigious ones, was often very difficult, even for Venetian composers (see Antonio Vivaldi’s or Baldassare Galuppi’s experiences). Thus, such an opportunity was, for Handel, both already a sort of consecration and a tremendous challenge.
First performed at the very end of 1709 or the beginning of 1710, Agrippina is a triumph. It has a typically Venetian libretto – mixing of comic and serious characters and situations – by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, and was performed by a cast of excellent singers, among whom some names – Margherita Durastanti, Valeriano Pellegrini, Giuseppe Maria Boschi and Francesca Maria Vanini-Boschi – appeared again in Handel’s London operas. But of course, the success of this opera is first of all due to the young’s Handel’s protean genius, particularly at ease with such a rich libretto and which is definitely revealed to the Venetian audience on this occasion.
This new recording of Agrippina, an opera already recorded by Cristopher Hogwood (1983), Nicholas McGegan (1991) and John Eliot Gardiner (1991/92), was made during performances that were staged by Frédéric Fisbach on behalf of the Atelier Lyrique de Tourcoing, an organization based in the north of France. It is conducted by Jean-Claude Malgoire. The production was an indisputable success considering the staging, but sometimes very disappointing from a musical point of view. The orchestra is much better here than it was during some performances, but it is still not a model of accuracy. Maybe this is the reason for the relative lack of ease evident in the cast. Furthermore, tempos sometimes seem to be quite slow and lacking in contrast, and Jean-Claude Malgoire’s conducting lacks drama.
The cast, starring Véronique Gens, is not devoid of qualities, but too many singers have difficulty performing Handel’s fast runs with accuracy and, without the impact of the staging, they do not carry the emotional intensity of this masterpiece. Philippe Jaroussky offers a good performance and his juvenile tone fits Nerone perfectly – offering a very different portrait of the young roman prince than the excellent Derek Lee Ragin in Gardiner’s recording – even if Jaroussky is definitely not at his best here. Thierry Grégoire spends much time forcing his voice – and is sometimes slightly out of tune – but when not doing so he can produce nice and moving singing (see ‘Tacerò’, Act III scene 2). Other secondary roles negotiate their way between correct and mediocre performances. Nigel Smith is an impressive and unstable Claudio, Ingrid Perruche is a Poppea of passing interest and Fabrice di Falco is a Narciso of no interest. Bernard Deletré and Alain Buet offer much stronger performances. The main interest of this erratic recording, far from being able to rival Gardiner’s recording, is predictably Véronique Gens’s performance. She offers a beautiful and rich tone that is sounding more and more like a mezzo, and has some grandeur as Agrippina. Although she is not totally at her ease with this role, her performance is saved by her vocal presence.
 Agrippina in Agrippina, and later Radamisto in Radamisto, Clelia in Muzio Scevola, Gismonda in Ottone, Vitige in Flavio, Sesto in Giulio Cesare, and Tauride in Arianna in Creta.
 Nerone in Agrippina, and later Mirtillo in Il Pastor fido, and Teseo in Teseo.
 Pallante in Agrippina, and later Argante in Rinaldo, Porsena in Muzio Scevola, Oronte in Floridante, Emireno in Ottone, Lotario in Flavio, Achilla in Giulio Cesare, Leone in Tamerlano, Garibaldo in Rodelinda, Ernando in Scipione, Clito in Alessandro, Ercole in Admeto, Isacio in Riccardo I, Cosroe in Siroe, and Araspe in Tolomeo.
 Ottone in Agrippina and later Goffredo in Rinaldo.
© Philippe Gelinaud - May 2004
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