be raised at the beginning of this review in two respects.
use of the phrase “directed and adapted by Michael
Hampe”. Since 1985 marked the 2000th anniversary
of the founding of Cologne, Hampe decided in this production
to abandon the original finale, with its “deus ex machina”
intervention by Juno to unite Otho and Poppea. Instead Claudius
sends the bridegroom off to Germany to found Colonia Claudia
Ara Agrippinensium (as Cologne was known in Roman times),
whilst also allowing him more scope to offer Poppea dubious
“comfort” in Otho’s absence. Comparing the performance with
Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s audio recording (Philips 438 009-2)
the result is the loss of a short aria and an orchestral
decides that the roles of Nero and Narcissus, originally
castrati, are instead to be assigned to tenors, whilst Otho
is changed from a female voice to a male baritone. These
developments, we are told, were made “in the interests of
is a long tradition of musical works being altered to suit
festival conditions Handel may not have raised too much
of an eyebrow at Hampe’s “adaptations”. I’m not too sure
however what his thoughts might have been about the marked
change in the balance of voices. I can certainly recall
a BBC Radio Three broadcast where Jonathan Keates insisted
that, “characters singing at the original pitch”, was a
feature one had a right to expect in any Handel opera
re-disposition has unfortunate resonances of previous performance
traditions. The Hallé Handel festivals, for example, were
still performing the operas in this way well into the 1960s.
Some viewers may feel the effect at Schwetzingen sits uneasily
with an otherwise “authentic” framework.
feelings as a listener, at least the vocal alterations are
obvious from a glance at the cast list. What isn’t clear
from the exterior of the box are the changes to the ending,
it merely mentions Hampe’s “direction”. Given the circumstances
in many record stores it’s not always possible to gain access
to the notes, and I can imagine some purchasers being disappointed,
not to say annoyed.
I have to report that I actually enjoyed this DVD very much.
has been updated, but not in a way that would frighten the
retains an attractive classical backdrop, whilst the costumes
are redolent of late 18th century - early 19th cnetury France,
with occasional period accoutrements, such as laurel wreaths,
where required. Perhaps the idea was to construct a physical
temple of Napoleonic reason and then contrast it with the
honeycomb of riddling deceit and intrigue, with which the
drama is imbued.
there is aplenty. Claudius is presumed drowned and in Rome
his wife Agrippina sees her chance to engineer Nero, her
son from her first marriage, onto the throne. She also sees
it as an opportunity to get her own back on Pallas and Narcissus,
the Emperor’s advisors who whilst secretly admiring her,
have also thwarted her past plans. Unfortunately for her
the soldier Otho dived into the sea and rescued Claudius,
and in gratitude the Emperor revoked his plans and made
his saviour heir to the throne. If this were not enough,
Claudius, Otho and Nero all have interests in Poppea, who
is more than a match for all of them. Enough said.
as the theatre is small, with seemingly good sight lines,
the cast is able to refrain from grimacing, and can suggest
the myriad changes of mood and feeling with subtle facial
expressions, a factor that eminently suits the medium of
TV close-up. Barbara Daniels is particularly successful
in this respect. Take for example her encounter with Poppea
in the final aria of Act 1, (“non ho cor che per amarti”-
track 32), and witness the number of subtle mood changes
that pass across her countenance within the space of a few
the plot emphasises courtly machinations it is not without
variation, introducing comedy (not to say farce) at various
points. Witness the opening of Act 2, where the onlookers
can hardly contain their boredom at the Emperor’s pompous
speech of thanksgiving. An interesting comment perhaps by
Hampe on the repetition of the da capo aria?
throughout is generally admirable. Gunter von Kannen is
a well-known Wagnerian, whilst David Kuebler may be familiar
to many from Saturday matinee broadcasts from the Met. Both
men successfully scale down voices used to much bigger stages
and larger orchestras. The smaller roles are also well taken,
with the possible exception of Eberhard Katz who sings Narcissus.
He sounds old and frail with a worn, effortful voice, although
he seems to improve a little as the opera proceeds.
In all I confess
to having enjoyed viewing Agrippina rather than just
listening to it. One of Handel’s earliest operatic successes
it undoubtedly benefits from the ability to see the back-biting,
back-stabbing and general jostling for advantage and position
among the characters. Just bear in mind this isn’t quite
Agrippina as Handel originally envisaged it.
see also Review
by Kevin Sutton