Whether you like the production values or not, the brilliance of the musical values are undeniable
Of the two DVD productions available, I personally consider the Barbara Daniels, David Kuebler, Janice Hall and Gunter Von Kannen production superior. What this Agrippina might have over that version is more authenticity and more completeness, while I personally put them on an equal level in terms of musical values but I found the earlier performance much more pleasing visually and more intelligently directed.
That is not downgrading this Agrippina. I actually think this is a good production, but I do think the quality of the production values and staging stop it from being truly great. The sets for me are too stark and static, while the costumes are bizarre, the make-up over-the-top and the wigs a real fright. The video directing is good though I give you that, and this is coming from a hit-and-miss video director. The staging has some delicious moments, especially with Claudio's attempts to seduce Poppea, but there were too many times as well where it was too goofy and ordinary, the abstract posing of the dancers got lost on me I'm afraid.
However, brilliant isn't enough to praise the quality of the musical values. I actually found it very difficult to find anything wrong with the production musically. The orchestral playing, in a as said a more idiomatic and early music-sounding reading to the earlier production, is crisp and stylish yet also allows for some pathos and sensitivity to the singers in the more recitative parts of Handel's wonderful music. The conducting from Malgoire reflects this wonderfully, never rushed, never stodgy.
Veronique Gens is an intelligent and deliciously scheming Agrippina, the character that drives the action, and as well as having personal beauty she has a lovely voice that is full of virtuosic ease. Phillippe Jaroussky contrasts very well and sings more than admirably especially in his killer final aria. Ingrid Perruche's Poppea is positively charming as well as graceful, coy and perky, and while her voice doesn't quite soar as much as one would want the tone is ravishing. The Claudio of Nigel Smith is occasionally strained but mostly mellifluous and he is suitably masculine and dare I say sexy. Thierry Grégoire plays Ottone, the most and only honest character in Agrippina, and is moving, sympathetic and heroic while also singing beautifully.
In conclusion, undeniably brilliant musically but visually I found myself perplexed. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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