OPERA / Agrippina - Buxton International Festival

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The Independent Culture
True to form, the Buxton International Festival has unearthed a most deservedly neglected opera, Agrippina, which Handel wrote when he was the 24-year-old Handelts Agrippina. Its numerous arias are nicely varied in instrumental colour, but the cardboard characterisation and stultifying situations defy successful production. So it is difficult to blame Adrian Slack for assuming an element of self-parody or Dermot Hayes for updating the designs to several different centuries at once, or their moment of whimsy in the final tableau, where the eight soloists sing while Rome, a miniature Colosseum, burns.

Such an opera stands or falls by its singing. In Buxton it totters. The outstanding voice is Timothy Wilson's counter-tenor, whose precision and subtlety lend genuine pathos to the part of Otho; Susan Roberts rises impressively to the considerable demands of the title role. Otherwise, the general aim on the opening night seemed to be to survive the arias rather than to revel in them, and in some cases the canto fell distinctly short of bel.

In Venice around the time of Agrippina's first production in 1709, opera audiences used to divert themselves by, among other things, spitting from the boxes onto the plebs in the stalls. I begin to understand why.

Continues on 20, 22, 24, 28, 30 July & 1 Aug. Box office: 0298 72190