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Opera - Released January 1, 2004 | Dynamic

Recording Handel's operas can be tricky. Overly immaculate studio readings tend to rob the long chains of recitatives and arias of the immediacy they need to stay interesting; and live recordings tend to be messy, not to mention noisy. This Agrippina, by Jean-Claude Malgoire and La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy, and starring Veronique Gens as the titular anti-heroine, certainly suffers from some "live-itis:" the orchestra isn't always sharp, orchestra and singers are occasionally out of phase, and there is plenty of audience and stage noise. But the quality of the musical performance is very high, the music never loses its sonic focus or clarity, and the energy of the live performance brings the drama to the foreground. Veronique Gens is a vocally arresting Agrippina, and the strength of her performance is a big reason for the success of this recording. Most importantly, she is as interesting in her many recitatives as she is in her arias, all of which are sung with style and smart ornamentation. Philippe Jaroussky, Ingrid Perruche, and Nigel Smith are also excellent. Malgoire keeps things moving at a furious pace, never allowing the drama to sag, and for the most part he illicits clean and stylish playing from the ensemble; the unavoidable warts that result from live performance shouldn't bother most listeners too much. The continuo playing is especially good, adding rhythmic depth and interest to the recitatives and the orchestral texture in general.