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Handel Agrippina

Agrippina – Vesselina Kasarova
Claudio – László Polgár
Nerone – Anna Bonitatibus
Poppea – Eva Liebau
Ottone – Marijana Mijanovic
Pallante – Ruben Drole
Narciso – José Lemos
Lesbo – Gabriel Bermúdez
Giunone – Wiebke Lehmkuhl

Orchestra La Scintilla/Marc Minkowski

Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday, May 17, 2009

Roman hokum in Handel's early Venetian masterpiece made for a good long afternoon at the far from a sold-out Festival Hall. Zurich Opera's current Pountney production was more than hinted at in a semi-staging on the platform in front of their period orchestra.

From the palely projected surtitles, one gradually got the thread of all the deceptions and double crossings, the perfunctory information and poor presentation in the over-priced programme having been little help.

What we might not have anticipated is that this is a comedy and a very funny one, all the better for having characters like Nero and Poppea circling around the scheming Agrippina for the crown of the not-dead emperor, the magnificent veteran bass László Polgár. Power was what everyone sought; "love" a more dubious motive.

As Agrippina, Vesselina Kasarova, one of the most exciting stars in the Zurich firmanent, riveted attention at her every appearance, her chin thrust up, quite unconcerned by the oddity of her vocal production with gear changes between chest voice and bright top, but no imprecision in negotiating her coloratura roulades. She dominated every scene in which she appeared, commanding the stage with a disdainful swagger and treating everyone else as pawns in her game. An object lesson in manipulating the corridors of power and an opera audience alike.

It was good to have in London an opportunity to watch a fine early instrument orchestra from Switzerland and to see in action Marc Minkowski, whose DVDs of Rameau's Platée and an outrageous Strauss Fledermaus have been highly praised in Musical Pointers.

Peter Grahame Woolf