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McVicar had some very neat solutions to some of the problems created by Handel and his librettist. The scene where Poppea is supposed to feign sleep and eavesdrop on Ottone, trying to hear whether he still loves her, can be risible on the modern stage. McVicar places it in a bar and has a drunken Poppea falling asleep and murmuring drunkenly -- a hilarious solution which solves the work's logistical problem without doing violence to the opera. It was perhaps a mistake having the denizens of the bar doing disco dancing to the long harpsichord ritornelli in Poppea's later aria in the same scene. But the extended harpsichord soli are a problem in this aria and having the harpsichord played on-stage as a cabaret pianist was a brilliant touch.

Other inventions were less felicitous. In Poppea's opening aria, she is supposed to be looking in the mirror, so McVicar stages the scene in a couture house. Unfortunately he introduces a pouting gay friend who rather dominates the action and flirts outrageously with the male servants. This is undoubtedly funny, but rather takes the shine off Poppea's brilliant aria.

The other aspect of the production that I found annoying was McVicar's tendency to bring on the dancing soldiers when all else seemed to fail. When seen once they are amusing, but on repetition they become tedious and a distraction from the music.

Other aspects of the production niggled, but by the end of a wonderfully entertaining evening, you forgave McVicar because he had mounted a production which was simply so funny without traducing Handel's concept of Agrippina.

The ENO orchestra played crisply and bouncily for Daniel Reuss. Reuss is an able Handelian and made a decent accompanist. He kept things flowing along but I could have wished for a conductor with a stronger personality.

Copyright © 15 February 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK



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