|David Trudgen faces down Julius Caesar as Nero. Photos by Jeffrey Dunn.|
You leave Boston Lyric Opera's Agrippina a bit winded, I think: it's so good in so many ways you can't quite believe it. Or perhaps you're just winded from laughter; for this Agrippina is not only exquisitely sung, and brilliantly acted and designed, it's also screamingly funny, in a go-for-broke pop style that many local productions have attempted but few have brought off (the only competition I can think of was Opera Boston's La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, but that's a far lesser opera). Perhaps the shortest, punchiest review for Agrippina would be: Big voices, big laughs = grand opera, or something like that. BLO has always specialized in opera as popular entertainment (just as Handel did); with Agrippina, they've practically perfected it.
Although I can already guess what some will say: "It's too funny." Right. Too funny. I know you won't believe me, but I was doubled over with laughter at some of Agrippina (and I thought my partner might have a seizure). I guess you're not supposed to do that at Handel. But I'm not sure why - at least when not only the singing and music are first-rate, but the concept and direction are, too. And incredibly, somehow Agrippina hangs onto its sense of grandeur despite its many pratfalls - and when the libretto spins on a dime in the second act and turns tragic, believe it or not, the production does as well. In short, you'll laugh and you'll cry. You could argue whether the BLO cast finds a synthesis of these opposed styles for the opera's final act; I mean, you could if you wanted to. I'd had so much fun by then that I really didn't care.
I admit, though, that I wasn't sure the BLO could pull off a satire quite this brazen in the opening scene (when a bored Nero almost set his mother on fire). But I soon realized just about everyone on stage had not only operatic pipes but crack comic timing, too; and at any rate, it became impossible to ignore the tone of Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani's blackly comic libretto (widely viewed at the time as a parody of Vatican politics). You probably know the basic plot from I, Claudius or L'incoronazione di Poppea: the ruthless Agrippina schemes, well, ruthlessly to place her son Nero (here Nerone) on the throne in the waning years of the reign of Claudius (here Claudio). Incredibly, Handel and Grimani transform these Roman power plays into a kind of quasi-romantic roundelay, with only the occasional hint of the disaster that Nerone's impending reign would become.
|Venice meets Rome meets modernity: Kathleen Kim's entrance as Poppea.|
|Caroline Worra and Christian Van Horn.|