Agrippina was staged for the first time in late December 1709 - or possibly at the beginning of 1710 - at Venice’s Teatro San Grisostomo and met with enormous success, as testified by twenty-seven following performances, a record number even for 18th-century standards. Agrippina’s triumph sanctioned Handel’s definitive investiture as an operatic composer. After nearly 300 years this opera appears as a masterpiece of 18th-century music and an innovative work, considering that when Handel composed it he was just twenty-four years old. The composer’s melodic creativity and sense of theatre are quite remarkable. The cast, conducted by Jean-Claude Malgoire, includes Véronique Gens in the title role.
Catone in Utica (1737), written for the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona, is one of Vivaldi’s last operatic masterpieces. Its splendid score, however, has come down to us incomplete: in fact the first of the three acts is missing. With infinite patience, Jean-Claude Malgoire has reconstructed the missing act, realising the recitative passages complying perfectly to Vivaldi’s stylistic idiom and integrating the missing arias with original arias taken from other operas written by the Red Priest. Thus Catone in Utica is at last available, in a world-première recording, in its complete form. This is unquestionably one of the highest moments in Vivaldi’s production of music theatre, a concise and highly efficacious score, rich in coups de théâtre and memorable arias, brought to us now in all its dazzling virtuoso beauty by a formidable singing cast. The recording was made in Turcoing, in France, during the performances given in November 2001 and has all the exciting freshness of a live recording in which the excellence of the performers is underlined by the audience’s enthusiastic applause.
Giulio Cesare proved by far the most popular of Handel’s operas, both originally and in modern revivals. Its straightforward plot and all-star original cast drew from Handel exceptional depth and subtlety in musical characterisation and lavish orchestral colours; Cleopatra’s seductive stage orchestra – harp, theorbo and viola da gamba with muted accompaniment from the pit – is unique. René Jacobs set the standard in 1991 (on Harmonia Mundi). By comparison, this is milder, more pensive. Bowman is superbly flexible – he seems to become ever more fluent over the years – yet less powerful and imperious than Jennifer Larmore, the earlier . Visse is thrillingly vicious as Tolomeo, the murderer and rapist, while the widowed Cornelia (Laurens) retains an expressive passion despite the weight of tragedy overwhelming her. Dawson, a provocative Cleopatra, isn’t always given her head: her final aria, da tempeste, is restrained by Malgoire’s sober tempo. The recording balance veils some artful orchestral detail. But the quasi-stage acoustic and sense of space add dramatic realism to the recitative, which has been judiciously cut to allow the inclusion of all the arias within the three discs. This is a worthy addition to several versions already available on disc – though a dozen or more Handel operas still await their first recordings.(George Pratt)
"Serse is a light and elegant comedy. It opens with the most famous of all Handel's arias, the notorious “Ombre mai fu“ (or Largo), quite a different piece when heard in context. Its mock solemnity sets the tone for what follows. The opera moves swiftly and charmingly, the recitatives often interspersed with brief ariosos rather than full-fledged arias. Outstanding in the cast is Hendricks, her voice flexible and distinctive, clearer and purer than it would become (after the tone began to unknit). She sings with great charm. Watkinson is a fluent Serse but doesn't leave a lasting impression. Oddly enough, I enjoyed Esswood's work more. He was the first of our modern countertenors, and, more than his successors, he seemed to value traditional methods, striving for full-bodied tone enriched by enough vibrato to keep the pitch up and the line spinning. Also praiseworthy is Ulrik Cold, an agile bass."- Fanfare