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You, Claudius

Those Romans! How decadent, how corrupt, how much fun! The idea of Romans as scheming, amoral, power-hungry creatures has had a hold on our collective imaginations for a long time. It’s inspired several compulsively watchable cable series, countless movies, and of course, plenty of baroque opera seria. La Cieca’s latest assignment was for me to review Handel’s Agrippina, an opera that perhaps encapsulates every single Roman stereotype and rolls it into one opera.
The outlines of the story are “loosely based” on the infamous Roman empress Agrippina, mother of the even more infamous Roman emperor Nero. The opera begins as Agrippina receives a false letter informing her of her husband Claudio’s death. Instead of grieving for her husband, the wheels immediately begin to spin for Agrippina as she plots for her son Nero to take the throne.

In this opera, however, Nero is sort of a joke—a man-child who is no match for Agrippina’s scheming power plays. In fact, the various “men” of the opera are all sort of jokes—Claudio is clueless and besotted by Poppea. Ottone is also infatuated with Poppea. Agrippina’s only competition is in the young, nubile Poppea, who seemingly, as I said, has all of Rome at her feet.

Handel’s opera is not his most melodically inspired, but it has the virtue of an extremely strong, comical plot. It follows the formal opera seria format but the libretto has enough over-the-top ridiculousness to be accessible to complete newcomers to baroque opera.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this new DVD is the ideal introduction to this opera. Handel demands great voices and great direction, and this production, taken from some performances in 2008 from the Saarlandiches Staatstheater, is drab in both presentation and musical values. The whole opera takes place on a bare stage, with a raised platform and steps up and down that platform. The costumes are nice—a mix/match of different periods, with Nero dressed like a child jester.

But except for some of the usual disrobing (why is this such a common theme in baroque opera videos?) the director Peter Lund seems content to let the singers make some over the top arm gestures and that’s it. I kept thinking that this opera could have been a lot funnier with a stronger director. I know in baroque opera the emphasis is supposed to be on the voices, and the vocal pyrotechnics, but Agrippina has a rich storyline that deserves a much more pro-active approach.

There are some cuts in the da capo arias to keep things moving at a faster clip, but even with the cuts the performance is essentially a dull one. Susanne Geb in the title role is perhaps the most major disappointment. Her voice is light and on the shrill side, and her performance is professional but unmemorable. I see that Geb has sung Elsa, and I really can’t imagine it at all—her voice lacks color and texture.

In fact, this sounds harsh but no one really makes an impact in this video, and one wonders why it was even released after so many years in the vault. The bright spot is Elizabeth Wiles (Poppea), who best captures her character — sweet and sexy on the surface, scheming underneath. Her lyric soprano almost sounds like Beverly Sills.

The booklet does not even come with a track listing of the musical numbers, only a brief synopsis and cast-list.

78 comments

  • I apologize for the OT post but I wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible. Amazon.com has a set of Handel for $0.99 right now. You get 302 tracks with Jephta, Messiah, Chandos antems and several of the odes. If you want to take a look at what all the tracks are, take a look at the amazon page, but please, remember to by through La Cieca, so she gets her cut.

    • aulus agerius says:

      After a big hassle with Amazon it is now downloading with their ‘amazon downloader’ which you have to install on your machine VERY SLOWLY.

  • bassoprofundo says:

    Christ. Agrippina, Radamisto, Pergolesi, Handel, Cencic, Daniels, Artaserse, Jaroussky, blah blah blah. What is up with all of this propaganda lately? We get it, people want other people to like this music. Unfortunately no one does. More Verdi/Wagner/Strauss and fewer countertenors please.

    • La Cieca says:

      Moderation.

      • I want to officially say, for all the world to see that I love you more than words can express at this very moment. If I was in NYC, I would deliver the flowers myself, sing my praises at your door and leave happy, having glanced at your beauty.

        Thanks

        • Rory Williams says:

          Actually, Lindoro, it should be “if I were in NYC.” I learned that on Parterre ;) !

          • You know what? You are correct. Thanks for the correction. Every once in a while, I do show that English is not my first language.

          • Rory Williams says:

            Oh, now I feel like I was bad. English is my native (& only) language, and (ask Manou) my fractured French is well bad/fascinating. I wasn’t trying to put you down, more “join the club.” Best, Lil Rory

          • You didn’t put me down. I do not feel insulted or attacked. A correction is a correction and your wording did not seem judgmental or implied cynicism or criticism

          • Ilka Saro says:

            As a native speaker, my “incorrect” detector did not go off. While some may wish to declare certain forms true or false, some other native speakers did not detect an error. “If I was” and “If I were” are both used.

            I think of the tale of the dying linguist’s last words: “I am about to die. Or I am dying. Both forms are used.” To which we might append “O gioia!”

      • Rory Williams says:

        Please, La C, forgive Basso’s intemperate posts. He’s just doing PR for our forthcoming bromance, “Basso & Rory’s Big Trip to Glyndebourne” where we meet up with OperaTeen in Jersey and inadvertently offend some Mafia dons in a doughnut shop, temporarily take refuge at Ruby’s, but are forced to flee abroad when her Employers come home unexpectedly and find us there. Once Blue turns Basso in to the popo (understandable, a girl has her limits, … but, Blue!), we wind up at Glyndebourne with Manou passing ourselves off as her German cousins (oh, the funny accents!). Coming to theaters near you this summer. Terrence McNally is on board for scripting. You’ll laugh (at Rory), you’ll hurl (at Basso), you’ll roll your eyes (with Ruby, Blue & Manou, plus the rest of Parterre).

        • bluecabochon says:

          Rory, bravo. I laughed out loud, and LONG. McNally has a lot to atone for after that Bellini fiasco…so I nominate YOU to write it, as he may not be up to it.

          What are they performing at Glyndebourme? Radamisto or Ataserse?

          • Rory Williams says:

            But, of course, in honor of LLCoolB, Glynebourne is performing “Les Mamelles des Tiresias.” And the big antic scene where we are wearing lederhosen and get separated from Manou at Harrods and have to speak fake German to Japanese tourists? Ja ja, Oscar-worthy! And don’t even get me started on the car chase in Paris when OperaTeen reappears. Big smooch to you, Blue. Making you laugh was my goal. Nightie night.

          • bluecabochon says:

            Rory…../Mamelles/……d-uh! Brilliant!

          • bluecabochon says:

            ( o ) ( o )

    • Perles75 says:

      opera-trolling. Nothing new!

  • Hippolyte says:

    I might advise BP to simply avoid/ignore any reviews/features that he deems might be offensive to his delicate, fiercely 19th/early 20th century sensibilities. Last time I checked no one is required to read ANYTHING on this website or any other site for that matter.

    I tend to take my own advise whenever I
    see “bassoprofundo” over a posting since I prefer to avoid ill-tempered entries whose sole purpose seems to be to bait other contributors on the site.

    I would ask a question: if indeed “no one” likes this music why are opera companies producting it and recording companies issuing it? Altruism? Perhaps not. Jeepers, I suspect there may be people even who don’t like Verdi/Wagner/Strauss. Imagine!

    • bassoprofundo says:

      Well, you’ve actually answered your own question in a way. Yes, there are many companies whose leaders, rightly or wrongly, feel the need to “educate” their audiences, not just provide them with what they want to see. This happens especially in Europe, where GMs and ADs see their public as sheeple and less as intelligent viewers. As for the question of recordings: well that’s a bit self-evident, they do the recordings because they know that no one will go to productions consistently if they mount them. You can dress it up however you want, but the truth is there are very, very few people who sincerely enjoy sitting through 3/4 hours of da capo aria after da capo aria. That’s just the way that it is. The recording companies are able to get around this because they know no one will buy a CD unless they really want it. So the .001% of people who care about this music end up buying the recordings, keeping singers like Daniels/Jaroussky/Cencic etc relevant in a way that they otherwise would not be if they had to rely ONLY on live singing.

      In fact I’m sure La Cieca could corroborate this, I would bet that posts about Handel/Vivaldi/countertenors etc get the lowest clicks of anything on this site. You have to really be a special kind of boring to get excited by cookie cutter da capo arias that the composers themselves didn’t even find interesting.

      • bluecabochon says:

        You know what I’d like to do? Rent a room next door to Basso and play only Baroque opera, Jonas and Placido CDs and performance recordings when he’s at home. I would go into Parterre archives and take notes of every single artist who drives Basso out of his gourd and make sure that they’re on the playlist as well.

        How childish and anal does one have to be to care about the number of clicks on a posting in order to prove one’s point? I didn’t even read his entire post but now I just want to see Baroque topics more than ever. Maybe I’ll randomly start to post YT videos of my favorites for the sheer joy of it.

      • peter says:

        “truth is there are very, very few people who sincerely enjoy sitting” and READING YOUR NEGATIVE POSTS. They’re not even enjoyable standing up and reading them.

      • la vociaccia says:

        Basso, I think you have a short memory, so allow me to refresh it, with the help of dear M Croche:

        Now, if you’re genuinely curious why people find the repertoire interesting, I’m sure Parterrians would be happy the share their thoughts on the matter. My first, humble suggestion would be that if you are only hearing “cookie cutter strophic arias”, then you are likely paying insufficient attention to:
        a) the poetic qualities of the text (yes, Metastasio was a skilled poet – the equivalent of a haiku master) and the skill of the singer in communicating them, both in recitative and in arias
        b) the quality of musical invention, which in Vivaldi’s case (for example) extends to the point of bizarrerie.
        c) the interplay of ornamentation and dramatic expression
        d) the variety of “micro-forms” within the “cookie-cutter strophes”
        e) the sheer tunefulness and melodic persuasiveness of much of these composers’ art.

        And your response was:

        Thanks m.croche, I’ll keep all these things in mind next time I listen to an opera by Vivaldi or a similar composer.

        Maybe you should take advice from, er, yourself….

      • mercadante says:

        I didn’t know Sheldon Cooper was on parterrre

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        It’s the strangest thing, I’ve seen an awful lot of performances of Handel operas, yet not once do I recall being coerced into going by the management for my own good.

  • fidelio101 says:

    Beware of Eric the usher in the Dress Circle of the Met. He confiscated and deleted my video files of Domingo in Act II of the dress rehearsal of Traviata today; thus denying all my Parterre box friends the honor and privilege of hearing Domingo before opening night.
    Unfortunately we left before the second half was over. My spouse feared that Eric would disappear with my pod or call the lavender FBI.
    Anyway, Damrau was really very very good. Pirgu got better in the second act, but I don’t think his timbre is that distinctive; and in this production at least, it was hard to find him on stage amongst all those keystone cops. I wanted to love Domingo, but I thought his diction in that register was a little mushy.
    Unfortunately Eric seizing my electronics put a damper on things and we did not stay till the end. He informed me that I broke the law to which I replied, ” When someone from family circle spies an orchestra seat and you let them sit in it, you allow them to break the law as well to which he replied, “I was never aware that those things happened.”. LOL I guess he’s never duped a cd or watched you-tube?

    • ianw2 says:

      Eric doing his job is nothing to compared to the battalion of lawyers Domingo would have rained down on you if he knew you were doing an unauthorised film of his rehearsal.

      • fidelio101 says:

        So I guess you never click on the video links posted on this blog?

        • armerjacquino says:

          We all do. Doesn’t mean we get to be pissed off with Eric for doing his job.

        • ianw2 says:

          Can’t say I’ve been falling over myself to watch dimly lit, mushily recorded videos of a rehearsal surreptitiously filmed from under someone’s coat.

    • Maury D says:

      Ushers actually are pretty diligent about attempting to keep people from upgrading seats. It’s a drag if you’re the person trying it, but it is in fact what they are paid to do.

      And FWIW it’s extremely annoying when people film from the audience. I was at a show Saturday and the young women in front of me kept doing it, albeit briefly, and it was totally distracting.

      • fidelio101 says:

        Ummmmmm I would never do this at a performance. My surrounding neighbors were junior high school children who trust me will never go to the met again and i kept the screen close to my chest so no lite emitted. It was when I went to turn it off that I was caught. And i PROMISE never to post on this site again. Now I know why I have no opera queen friends! Enough brow beating!

    • Bianca Castafiore says:

      What a pathetic post… People taking empty seats at the opera are not breaking the law. Filming a performance without permission is.

  • almavivante says:

    Fidelio, on behalf of all of us church mice who sit in the FC and sneak into Orch seats when they are empty, PLEASE do not bring this to the attention of the ushers. I’m sure they know about it, but don’t fling it in their faces.

    At the same time, I still give thanks to the usher, rear Orch [I deleted a description so she doesn't get in trouble if someone reads this], who once saw me rushing into Standing Room at the last possible minute for La Gioconda, lights going down, and being as SR was already emptied out, told me to please have a seat in the back row. NICE LADY!

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      Well if the seats are empty would why anyone care if you take it? At sold out performances this wouldn’t be possible and it is not like you are taking away a seat from someone but only taking something that would remain empty. There is no harm there since the people who would move wouldn’t buy the expensive seat anyone but stay at their regular cheaper seat.

      • almavivante says:

        Trust me, some of the ushers do care, and aren’t nice about it.

        • armerjacquino says:

          As a former usher, I’d just like to point out that it’s their job. You don’t get to make judgment calls in a service-industry gig like that.

          • ianw2 says:

            I was a former usher too!

            We used to let people take empty seats after intermission, if there was one, because then we could be reasonably certain that someone wasn’t running late.

            The reason why ushers can get stroppy if someone takes a different seat is not the finances (as if they could care) but they know how irritating it is if the person who bought that seat turns up late and you have to work out the muddle in the middle of a dark auditorium during a performance.

          • Henry Holland says:

            I used to be a seat jumper but that stopped when I went to see the play War Horse and my being in the wrong seat caused a very nice couple to miss the first few minutes of the play.

      • oedipe says:

        I agree, Feldmarschallin. At the Salle Pleyel in Paris, the ushers have a record of the unsold seats and help you relocate to them if you want to. Another world, another mentality…

        • Chanterelle says:

          Same thing at Opera de Paris. Au contraire at Theatre des Champs Elysees, alas, at least recently, they will chase you back to your original seat.

          • oedipe says:

            I have relocated at the TCE too, the ushers are not very present once the show has started. Maybe your TCE usher wanted a pourboire.

          • manou says:

            Resquilleurs émérites!

          • Hippolyte says:

            In the numerous times I’ve been at TCE, the ushers are too concerned with hustling tips to worry about anything else.

        • Bianca Castafiore says:

          Well, oedipe, at the Met, usually if you relocate after the intermission, the ushers (or anyone else) will not bother you. I’ve had an usher offer me a nicer seat once after we chatted for a few minutes during intermission. Of course, it’s not house policy so we just keep it discreet…

          • oedipe says:

            Bianca,

            I relocate at the Met too, but I have an expertise at that sort of thing.

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            Ah… so you are the Frenchman who ran over me getting to an empty seat in the middle of the row, knocking over a blind elderly widow next to me in the process?

          • oedipe says:

            Shucks, it’s a small world isn’t it!

      • Maury D says:

        Well if the seats are empty would why anyone care if you take it?

        The company would care because they’re running a business and have every incentive to discourage people from purchasing cheaper tickets instead of more expensive ones. This is a drag when you are not in pocket to buy nice seats and want to sit in them, but it’s hardly difficult to understand.

        • kashania says:

          Thank you. I don’t want to sanctimonious but sometimes, the most ardent fans of the art form are the ones who least comprehend the notion that opera companies are not-for-profit and are barely able to scrape a budget together to put on the most expensive art form in the world.

          • DonCarloFanatic says:

            If the seats are empty, the people who paid exactly what those seats cost should be invited to sit in them to improve their view. Of course that isn’t feasible, but that would be the fairest way to allot unused seats.

            But unused seats are not necessarily unsold seats, are they? And the ushers can’t move everybody around as people are moved on an airplane, since the missing ticket holders might show up at intermission or during a scene change or whenever the ushers at the doors take pity on them.

            I don’t hate a serious music fan who takes advantage of a vacancy, but I am jealous and I feel there’s some unfairness involved. When it happens and I see it, there’s a chilling effect on my enthusiasm to continue to buy expensive seats. The seat jumpers paid a fraction of what I did and simply are more brazen and agile than I. Their intimate familiarity with the house gives them an advantage over me, and manners or fairness are not their primary concerns, either. One can argue that they have far less cash than I do, but it’s not a good argument because that doesn’t take into account the difference between my meticulously correct behavior and their taking advantage. As a result, I go home thinking I paid far too much for my seat since others could get an even better one in front of me simply by moving fast once the doors were shut. My dismay affects the bottom line of the Met when I start wondering why I’m blowing so much cash on a singular, special experience, and they are seeing the same show for the fourth time and their total expenditure was maybe a third of what I paid for one performance.

            Perhaps others do not share my negative feelings, but I do think there’s an unfairness involved in seat jumping and that it can reduce the number of high-priced tickets sold to the un-rich, a financial category to which I belong.

            Still, I’m not going to complain to an usher or rat you out or stare at you disapprovingly. That is, unless you unwrap something in cellophane or start coughing a lot, or starting talking or filming. Then I hate you no matter what you paid for your ticket.

    • Camille says:

      That has happened to me exactly once, and in San Francisco, upstairs. A nice lady in this case, and for the S. F. Ballet.

      There used to be a much more relaxed laissez-faire situation @ my beloved Carnegie Hall but NO longer. New management is tight and strict and the ushers have been duly warned. Don’t ask me how I know.

  • itrinkkeinwein says:

    IMHO, Händel learned *a lot* between “Agrippina” and “Rinaldo,” a short span.

    The earlier work doesn’t pace effectively in the theater, despite good numbers.

    • Regina delle fate says:

      Oh! Many Handel scholars believe that Agrippina is the best libretto Handel ever set, while Rinaldo is little more than a hotchpotch, with almost a third of the arias -- some from Agrippina -- recycled. The characters and their motivations in Agrippina are far more coherent than in Rinaldo, which was conceived by the impresario primarily as a visual spectacular. Handel certainly pulled out all the stops musically and wrote wonderful new music for the singers of Rinaldo, Armida and Argante, but Agrippina is also full of brilliant music and the characters are among his most richly drawn -- Agrippina is by a long way Handel’s most formidable matriarch, and Poppea is the first of his entrancing “sex kittens”. I can’t imagine directors who look for theatrical coherence over spectacle preferring to stage Rinaldo over Agrippina. I’d also be very surprised if Rinaldo is more frequently staged today. I’ve seen six productions of Agrippina but only three of Rinaldo during 30 years of Handel-watching.

  • Camille says:

    Ivy, I’d just like to say that when I attended the Parsifal I was a little taken aback by the MetTitles this time re constant reference to Christian symbols. Honestly, I do not recall such an emphatic emphasis of words like “Savior”, etc., in the previous performances I heard ten and twelve years ago. Now, maybe I am just misremembering—I just don’t know. If one looks at the score, one sees the wording to be a bit more ambiguous or shaded.

    So was this a new translation??? Does anyone know? Certainly the Rigoletto was!

    Ivy, I know naught of Händel, and of this work I am familiar with one aria so I can’t say anything but thanks for your time and considered opinion. If more young, educated professional persons like yourself went to the Met, it would be all for the better.

    • Poison Ivy says:

      Thanks Camille! I think for new productions they often do get new translations, but I’m not sure if they did for Parsifal. I went home and checked with some translations I had in recordings and they seemed pretty close to the Met titles.

  • RDaggle says:

    so, ANYWAY, …

    I remember City Opera’s 2002 production of Agrippina, and felt the same as this reviewer: a good “show” without much music as memorable as the other Handel operas NYCO was presenting.

    That production was very entertaining, with a ‘National Enquirer’ view of the legendary Romans. The cast nailed the humor. Just as well; if we were waiting for music along the lines of “Verdi prati” or “Vivi tiranno” we would still be sitting there.

    (11 years ago — yipes.)

  • Ruby says:

    Dear Rory: I never thought this day would end with me being able to laugh so heartily still. Count me in for the bromance “Basso & Rory’s Big Trip to Glyndebourne”. I might not be able to sleep all night trying to think of a splendid menu for the occasion of your dropping in. I definitely will make sure I have enough of Trader Joe’s 3 buck chuck around to soothe your spirits after that Mafia encounter, and some hot chocolate for Opera Teen. Keep me posted and sweet dreams!

  • Poison Ivy says:

    I;m the first to admit that the endless series of secco recitative followed by da capo aria CAN be boring. It really depends, however, on how the operas are staged. If they are presented as semi-staged concerts (as it very nearly is here), then yes, it is very boring. But the story itself has a lot of humor and even camp — there is room aplenty for a creative director to make something very fun out of Agrippina. The arias are not really top-notch Handel but that’s neither here nor there.

    • m. croche says:

      Lieder recitals have even less movement. Do you find yourself bored by them?

      I think the responsibility here lies with the singer, not the director. Interesting singers have all the vocal and gestural resources necessary to bring this music to life -- they did back in the old days, and they do today. If a sympathetic director can help frame or augment their performance, so much the better.

      • RDaggle says:

        “Interesting singers have all the vocal and gestural resources necessary to bring this music to life – they did back in the old days,
        and they do today.”

        In the old days? How old are we talking about? These are exactly the operas that were almost completely ignored for a couple of hundred years.

        I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they have become popular again in an era where directors have been given a lot of latitude in interpretation.

        • oedipe says:

          I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they have become popular again in an era where directors have been given a lot of latitude in interpretation.

          Really? This is news to me! I thought baroque opera has been revived and has become popular again -at least in some parts of the world- due to the long-term commitment, dedication, enthusiasm, and in-depth research put in by people like Alan Curtis, William Christie, John Eliot Gardiner, Fabio Biondi, etc., who have surrounded themselves with young talent and have succeeded in creating emulation and contagious excitement.

          • RDaggle says:

            Do I really need to make the point that a staged opera isn’t crafted by the conductors and orchestra? The singers also know the difference between a concert and an opera.

            Without directors and designers collaborating with the musicians we don’t have an opera.

            You know this. Or are you starting to get all Wistful on us …

        • m. croche says:

          It seems obvious to me that musicians and singers (and their listeners) have even more to do with the revival of older music than directors. Yes, few people were listening to a Pergolesi opera in , say, the mid 19-th century, but that was because that era was still largely beholden to the idea that music “progressed”, that “old-fashioned” music could have little hold over the public.

          Beginning with the 19th-century, though, musicians, critics and audiences began to appreciate more thoroughly older music not of their time. They learned that older music needed to be heard within the context of its musical period, to be appreciated for its own qualities, and that it should not be misjudged by standards from a later era. Thus began the “historicist” movement in music, and its influence has been increasing steadily over the past 150 years. Vivaldi -- practically unknown in early 20th century -- had has instrumental music mainstreamed in the early LP era. His operas are now following in a similar manner.

          If we turn to 17th century opera a la Cavalli, we see that the musicians have learned to make music from that time much more lively by jettisoning the big orchestrations which people used to think were necessary for opera. With fleet accompaniments, Monteverdi and Cavalli’s vocal lines could be more sharply etched, the dramatic impact of their musical inflections could be more clearly felt.

          To choose another example: 19th century aesthetics began to teach that desires of the performer should be subordinated to the authority of the score. Stendahl claimed that Rossini wrote such elaborate coloratura to keep singers from making up their own. Berlioz deplored singers who dared to add their own ornaments to his music. This aesthetic still is quite prominent today -- we still have our reverence for Urtexts and “the composer’s intentions”. But in addition to this, other types of music -- like jazz -- have reminded us that the ability of the performer to shape the tune, to inflect it in their own way, according to their understanding of the needs of the music’s drama, is an important art in its own right. When singers execute their own (or their coach’s) variations in the da capo of an aria, they are recovering a performing tradition that for a long while been banished from respectable music making.

          This music of an earlier era is becoming more popular because we have been learning to throw off musical prejudices inherited from intervening generations. The past never stays the same -- the past always looks different to each succeeding generation. It is for that reason that music which seemed boring to audiences in 1913 or 1963 suddenly seems quite vital to us now.

          And when we discover works that we had neglected previously, we often find that the fault had not with the works, but with ourselves.

          • m. croche says:

            Editing fail: “And when we discover joyful things in works that we had neglected previously, we often find that the fault had not been with the works all along, but with ourselves.”

          • RDaggle says:

            I was responding to your comment which seemed to equate an opera performance with a lieder recital. Disagree.

            I was also taking issue with the idea that “in the old days” an interesting singer could bring baroque music to life through their talent — even though most singers -- interesting or otherwise — basically ignored that rep from the mid-1800s to 1980-ish.

          • m. croche says:

            By “old days”, I meant at the time of the works’ creation. In the 17th and 18th century, the performers of “baroque opera” quite obviously put over their music quite well. The music of that time was abandoned and has once again come to be appreciated -- thanks in great measure to understanding and imaginative performers and scholars who found ways to break through our preconceived notions of how that music was supposed to sound.

            And I continue to be mystified why people who enjoy lieder recitals would be particularly disturbed by a comparatively static or neutral staging. Good performers are able to communicate with their voices and their bodies.

          • Poison Ivy says:

            “In the old days” Handel arias were regularly trotted out at concerts and such and treated as beautiful showcases for said singer. The baroque revival didn’t begin until musicians and yes, stage directors started looking at these operas and treating them not as a string of da capo arias but as a cohesive evening length drama.

          • m. croche says:

            I’m thinking of older days than you, Ivy, the times when the works were new. The “baroque revival”, by the way, is not something new, but has been a long process that has been going on since, say, Mendelssohn’s performance of the St. Matthew passion. Musicians and audiences have, slowly but surely, improved their appreciation of music before Haydn. Each generation saw itself in a new stage of uncovering the musical past.

          • aeijtzsche says:

            Yes, back in 1709, Agrippina was new. It didn’t have to be revived. People loved it. 27 consecutive performances. Some people probably caught it more than once. And I suspect none of that had to do with directing and producing trends. There certainly wasn’t a lot of “latitude.” I mean, they released birds in the theater during Rinaldo, I guess.

            And people went nuts over the singing. Senesino’s recits brought people to tears, yes? Handel’s operas have come back not because of new ways of directing, thought that doesn’t hurt, but instead because it’s great music and it’s often great drama.

            It seems like folly to me to write off the entire opera-going public of say, 1720s London as people who were unusually tolerant of or enthusiastic about boring things.

    • DeCaffarrelli says:

      I’m sorry that this opera (as performed on this DVD)didn’t speak to you but to suggest that Agrippina is anything less than a great work is just plain off. Critical consensus is that it’s Handel’s first operatic masterpiece set to one of the best libretti of his 40+ operas. Winton Dean in his definitive study of Handel’s operas says “The musical invention of Agrippina is unfailingly rich and varied, in melody, harmony and rhythm alike.”

      I’ve not seen this DVD but based on the clip it’s badly directed and musically undistinguished. The productionn is also available on CD, by the way, and is conducted by Konrad Junghaenel which you fail to mention. I’ve seen Agrippina twice on stage and own probably a dozen recordings (commercial and broadcasts) of the work and it’s a witty, touching, altogether fascinating work which owes more dramatically to 17th century works like Monteverdi and Cavalli than later Handelian opera seria. It’s too bad you haven’t experienced such superb interpreters of the title role as Felicity Palmer, Pauline Tinsley, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Veronique Gens, Ann Hallenberg and Alexandrina Pendatchanska.

      It might surprise you but operas like this are quite often done in concert, like the recent Radamisto at Carnegie Hall, where “the endless series of secco recitatives followed by da capo aria[s]” can prove anything but boring.