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Handel: Agrippina

ENO
5th February

David McVicar's approach to Agrippina may seem superficially similar to his Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare but thankfully it cuts considerably closer to the bone. Not afraid of vulgarity where it is apt, his political poseurs are too close to our tabloid reality for easy laughs, and the shifting relationships are surprisingly Shakspearean in flavour.

Christine Rice's Nerone may start as a feckless drop out all baggy black leather and chains but rapidly becomes a dangerous cross between Richard III and Coriolanus, handing out food parcels to the unwashed and using his mother's schemes to his own ends. If one adds to this a magnificent vocal characterisation and musical flair for baroque ornamentation and success is ensured. Not that the rest of the cast were any less compelling. Sarah Connolly's Agrippina storms through with wit and assured musicality, her opening I shall battle setting the tone for her conquests. Lucy Crowe has the good looks as well as the voice for Poppea and both Gorgeous Pearls and Your love is power proved electric in delivery.

Not that the men lacked impact. Reno Troilus' slightly camp Ottone, an innocent abroad, was well matched to Brindley Sherratt's worldly wise Claudio.

John Macfarlane's massive black columns brought overtones of both classical and fascist Italy, and also created fine spaces for the action to inhabit.

This is not the place to debate Handel's use of the organ but readers will understand that I was delighted to see and hear! a pipe organ in the pit, used with subtlety in both recitative and arioso. The orchestra under Daniel Reuss combined the attack of an early instrument band with the fullness of tone needed for such a large house. Handel I think would have approved!

BH