Agrippina (1709): George Frideric Handel

Handel: Agrippina

★★★★

(Grange Festival, Hampshire, 8 June 2018)

Last weekend, on a balmy Hampshire afternoon, H and I donned our cocktail dresses and set off for the first of our two country-house operas this summer. It was time for the Grange Festival near Winchester (not to be confused with Grange Park Opera in West Horsley in Kent, who split from the Grange Festival two years ago in less than amicable circumstances). The Grange Festival have dusted themselves off, and are kicking off their second summer season in stunning style with Handel’s Agrippina. Full of maternal ambition, political intrigue and lustful shenanigans, this opera follows the Roman matriarch as she schemes to manoeuvre her son Nero onto the imperial throne. A dose of plotting makes me a very happy girl, but I was rendered even happier by the quality of the cast, headed by the redoubtable Anna Bonitatibus as Agrippina herself. Truly, an evening fit for an emperor.

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Ercole Amante: Francesco Cavalli (1662)

Cavalli: Ercole Amante

★★★

(Concerto Köln and Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, with Ivor Bolton, 2009)

We haven’t had a properly weird opera in a while, have we? We’ve had imaginative and updated concepts, but nothing sufficiently mind-boggling to take its place in the Pantheon of Odd alongside the shark and the flying skeletal fish. But fear not, my friends. I have a new addition for those hallowed halls: Francesco Cavalli’s Ercole Amante, designed for the stage by David Alden. Sit back and marvel.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Monteverdi: L'Incoronazione di Poppea

★★★★

(Teatro Real, Madrid, with Les Arts Florissant and William Christie, 2010)

In the wake of the Barbican’s semi-staged Poppea, I decided to have another go at the DVD of this 2010 version from the Teatro Real in Madrid, to see how the two productions compared. It had completely bewildered me first time round. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it much more now that I had a better appreciation of the opera and its context. There are certain elements that I think the Barbican did better, but the Madrid version, with its stellar cast, certainly throws a long shadow. It’s staged, which is a big plus for me; but it completely overshadows the Barbican in one other important way as well.

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