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HomeOperaEnglish Touring Opera's revival of Handel's Agrippina

English Touring Opera’s revival of Handel’s Agrippina

Handel: Agrippina - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Agrippina – English Touring Opera (Photograph Richard Hubert Smith)

Handel: Agrippina; Paula Sides, Edward Hawkins, Esme Bronwen-Smith, Tim Morgan, Hilary Cronin, Matt Paine, Jerome Knox, Edward Jowle, director James Conway/Bradley Travis, conductor Leo Duarte; English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire

An exquisite vivid account of Handel’s early anti-heroic satirical opera with a high-quality forged having the time of their lives and vibrant taking part in within the pit

English Touring Opera’s Handel season at Hackney Empire continues with a revival of Handel’s Agrippina (seen 7 October). James Conway’s manufacturing was revived by Bradley Travis with Paula Sides within the title function, Edward Hawkins as Claudio, Esme Bronwen-Smith as Nerone, Tim Morgan as Ottone, Hilary Cronin as Poppea, Matt Paine as Narciso, Jerome Knox as Pallante and Edward Jowle as Lesbo. Leo Duarte carried out the Outdated Avenue Band. Designs had been by Samal Blak, revived by Rebecca van Beeck, lighting was by Tim van’t Hof. The opera was sung in a performing version by Peter Jones, in an English translation by James Conway.

Premiered in Venice in 1709, Agrippina makes use of among the best librettos that Handel ever set (by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani), however the opera may be very totally different to the nice sequence of Italian operas that Handel would write for London. Agrippina is pacier, extra risque and funnier, there are moments that method farce and the drama has little of the contorted really feel of the London operas. Right here there’s a narrative move to the scenes that feels extra fashionable. The London operas are about emotional conditions, with loads of house within the arias, whereas Agrippina is about character and story.

Handel: Agrippina - Paula Sides, Jerome Knox, Esme Bronwen-Smith, Matt Paine - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Agrippina – Paula Sides, Jerome Knox, Esme Bronwen-Smith, Matt Paine – English Touring Opera (Photograph Richard Hubert Smith)

The model utilized by ETO actually zipped alongside and the manufacturing was splendidly pacey, with designs primarily based round a central dais that rotated giving us a fluid move between scenes, but additionally loads of house for the farce. The bodily comedy component was low key, in contrast to some productions I’ve seen the scene in Poppea’s boudoir the place her competing lovers, Claudio, Nerone, and Ottone, pop out and in was much less in regards to the ludicrousness of the dramatic state of affairs and extra about character and what every was saying and overhearing.

That’s not to say this was naturalistic. Something however. There was a distant echo of commedia dell’arte in the feel and appear of the person characters, every was stylised and barely over emphasised, bringing out the sturdy character of every.

Paula Sides made a pleasant Agrippina, extra sympathetic than some, obsessive and scheming sure, but additionally very highly effective in her nice scene the place she realises that she is at risk. This was one of many moments within the opera when the seriousness of Handel’s method took over. Sides had a splendidly expressive face, and he or she used expression for comedian function and emphasis, the quirk of the lips, a elevating of the eyebrow. This was allied to a classy method to Handel’s music; she amused us and drew us alongside while on the similar time we horrified by her scheming.

Handel: Agrippina - Tim Morgan, Hilary Cronin - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Agrippina – Tim Morgan, Hilary Cronin – English Touring Opera (Photograph Richard Hubert Smith)

Opposing Agrippina was Hilary Cronin’s Poppea. Winton Dean would describe Poppea as one among Handel’s ‘intercourse kitten’ roles and I bear in mind having a dialogue with James Conway about how this received Poppea considerably improper. Cronin’s Poppea was virtually as a lot of a schemer as Agrippina, however this Poppea used her sexuality slightly than her wiles. There was a critical core to Cronin’s efficiency, while nonetheless giving us a girl conscious of her sexual energy, in addition to some stunningly glowing singing. A pleasant efficiency all spherical.

Ottone is the one actually admirable character in the entire opera, he stays himself all through and is steadfast when the others are quixotic and changeable. Tim Morgan introduced a gentleness to the music, his voice fairly soft-grained however resolute. The good scene that concluded Half One, the place Ottone is rejected by everybody in flip after which has an excellent aria, was very highly effective certainly and Morgan introduced out the distinction in method between his character and the remainder. To a sure extent, Ottone is just too good for his personal good, however Morgan held our consideration and made him the nonetheless quiet centre.

Esme Bronwen-Smith impressed significantly as Nerone. Although wearing a splendidly over-the-top method, Bronwen-Smith efficiently conveyed Nerone’s youthful masculinity, and in addition his neediness, his reliance on his mom. Bronwen-Smith had a high-quality manner with Handel’s music, singing with a pleasant edge to the tone. She received First Prize on the 2022 Kathleen Ferrier Awards and has been protecting Cherubino at Glyndebourne, and I do hope that we hear her in some extra of Handel’s operas.

Handel: Agrippina - Jerome Knox, Edward Hawkins, Paula Sides, Matt Paine, Esme Bronwen-Smith, Edward Jowle, Tim Morgan - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Agrippina – Jerome Knox, Edward Hawkins, Paula Sides,
Matt Paine, Esme Bronwen-Smith, Edward Jowle, Tim Morgan –
English Touring Opera (Photograph Richard Hubert Smith)

The 2 conspirators, Narciso (Matt Paine) and Pallante (Jerome Knox) had been nicely differentiated dramatically and musically, and each Paine and Knox had a good time with these characters, offering sturdy help while seeming to have enjoyable. As did Edward Jowle as Lesbo, right here he was bodily characterised in an outrageous (and slightly camp manner), emphasising the best way that this manufacturing had a component of bodily theatre, with every character having bodily in addition to dramatic traits.

Fortunately, Edward Hawkins as Claudio was naive slightly than a buffoon. He had a sure the Aristocracy as Caesar but additionally a determined idiocy which got here to the fore within the scene in Poppea’s boudoir. It is not an enormous function, however Hawkins ensured that Claudio drew our ear and our eye by his easy presence.

Within the pit, Leo Duarte (conducting slightly than taking part in the oboe) drew vivid taking part in from the Outdated Avenue Band. This was a efficiency the place the vivacious motion on stage was actually stability by strongly characterised and classy taking part in within the pit. Duarte’s extremely dramatic conducting type appeared to virtually draw the sound bodily from the gamers. The recitative actually zipped alongside, supported by a continuo group together with Satoko Doi-Luck (harpsichord) and Toby Carr (theorbo).

Singing in English, the forged did nicely with getting the phrases over and this, mixed with the summaries on the surtitles ensured that we may comply with the twists and turns of the plot. This piece is in high-quality distinction to the opposite two operas on this season, and on this vivid manufacturing gives a high-quality manner into Handel’s music. Agrippina is on tour with performances in Malvern, Saffron Walden, Buxton and Exeter.

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