Joyce DiDonato has staked a powerful claim on the multi-faceted title role of Handel’s opera Agrippina. In the words of The Telegraph, she sings it with “authority, grandeur and high style”. She recently performed it to critical acclaim at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Maxim Emelyanychev, Chief Conductor of Il Pomo d’Oro. Joining them on this recording is a cast of established and rising stars that includes Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Franco Fagioli, Luca Pisaroni, Elsa Benoit and Jakub Józef Orlinski.
DiDonato is mistress of all she surveys as the scheming empress,Read more with an expressive palette and tonal beauty to match the finest Handelians, as well as enviable breath control. Emelyanychev sets the seal on an outstanding set with conducting that sizzles with theatricality.
– Sunday Times (UK)
I can’t imagine a finer Agrippina today than Joyce DiDonato. Technically she can move from a whisper/whimper to a roar–give a listen to her work on the great aria “Pensieri….” She begins the aria’s da capo an octave lower than written and pianissimo; she sounds like the saddest cello in the world. And when she roars, all hell breaks loose, with rapid-fire coloratura always accurate and always serving a dramatic purpose. She can wheedle, cajole, and menace–the very definitions of Agrippina’s character. Wow. In “Se vuoi pace”, in which she seems to be reconciling with Claudio, her smooth legato is ravishing, and the way she toys with Narciso and Pallante is wickedly funny.
Poppea is sung here by Elsa Benoit, elsewhere a Gilda, Musetta, and Zerlina. Her innocence clearly dropped for the role of Poppea, she is wonderfully fluid and insinuating, and her “Bel piacere”, a genuine moment of love for Ottone, is stunning.
Ottone is the magnificent countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski, whose pure tone and gorgeous phrasing define this decent character. He and Benoit shine in their duet. Nero is a pivotal role, one that is easy to overdo, and in fact, the remarkably agile and almost three-octaved Franco Fagioli overdoes it. That his countertenor can handle it all is spectacular, but his nasty-boy tone (which he can change on a dime) can hector. Luca Pisaroni’s handsome tone and dignity make a case for liking the bumbling Claudio, with a fine reach down to a low D. The others in the cast are splendid–Andrea Mastroni as Pallante and Carlo Vistoli as Narciso.
Maxim Emelyanychev leads Il Pomo d’Oro with something approaching controlled glee, with recits savored as much as arias. Kudos to first oboist as well. The engineering is perfect and so is the balance; voices and instruments shine and intermingle. Move over other recordings of this opera: this is the champ.
–ClassicsToday (Robert Levine)
Benoit is a delectable Poppea, both knowing and sympathetic…Orli?ski sings with rounded tone and a sure feeling for Handelian line…Emelyanychev’s direction of his responsive band combines fizzing theatrical energy with due regard for the opera’s more reflective moments. With DiDonato nonpareil in the title-role and a uniformly strong cast, this now becomes a first choice for Handel’s Venetian masterpiece.