…For Handelian string playing of real vitality, rhythmic verve and dramatic engagement at point-blank range, head to the tiny cloisters in the gardens of Iford Manor where harpsichordist Christopher Bucknall directs an orchestra of 11 players in a vivacious account of Agrippina (1709). Here is articulation so smart that you could cut your finger on it, a rich tonal range and an abundance of exuberantly improvised decorations from leader Bojan Cicic. Designed by Kimm Kovac, Bruno Ravella’s production of Handel’s only Venetian opera is a thrift-shop fantasy of the 1980s, half Jackie Collins novel, half John Hughes movie. There are perms, shoulder-pads, personal stereos, leotards, gold lamé and leg-warmers. There’s even a hot-tub in the font.
Where Saul offers a moral lesson, Agrippina offers a farce of thwarted sexual desires and attempted assassinations. Alinka Kozari’s chiselled cheekbones and chiselled coloratura combine to arresting effect in the shameless, scheming title role, while Ciara Hendrick dazzles as her son, the brattish Nerone. As nubile Poppea, Louise Kemeny deftly juggles the attentions of Nerone and Andrew Slater’s lust-befuddled Claudio, saving her sweetest singing for the gorgeous Act 3 duet with Rupert Enticknap’s smitten Ottone. Gareth Brynmor John, Tom Verney and Bradley Travis deliver the supporting roles of Pallante, Narciso and Lesbus with seedy flair.
Read the full Spectator review here: The Spectator