Handel was german originally, so it is quite normal for Arnold Ostman to conduct Agrippina in the best and heaviest German style of thirty years ago. I just wonder what the London Baroque Players are doing in that boat that is a pure 19th century martial version of this opera.
First the three male soprano and altos have been replaced by two tenors and one baritone. That destroys an enormous proportion of Handel's art. It is bad enough when they use female sopranos where Mozart must have used castratos. But to recompose the work to eliminate the castratos and the musical range they represented is not a distortion: it is a cultural crime. Apparently that was done in the 19th century for simple enough reasons. But why and how could that be still done in 1983-85 in Germany with the London Baroque Players?
Richard Strauss for example managed the problem by using female sopranos for the young boys and young men he wanted on the stage. The Rosenkavalier is a female soprano for one example, which could today be repaired and sung by a male soprano or a male alto. But Richard Strauss did not have any choice in Germany in his time. But it is no longer the case in England or in Germany in the last quarter of the 20th century. This is an unacceptable mutilation of a work of art that can be performed properly and it could in 1980+.
The second remark is the extremely bad quality of the actors for the parts. Nero is 17 when he becomes emperor and his mother is 39. And all the others are in that bracket between 17, or maybe even younger for Poppea, and 35 with one exception: Claudius who was 64 when Nero became emperor. Agrippina is a more than mature woman with a corpulence that has nothing to do with what she was. Ottone is too old and his behaviour is not that of a young man in love, far from it, who is maybe slightly shy and timid in front of the emperor and women. Narciso is in no way the obese character that is put on the stage with his tenor voice instead of that of a male soprano. Claudio in that gallery of people too old for their parts seems to be too young since he is supposed to be 25 years older than Agrippina and he is far from being that on the stage. In Handel's time they were well obliged to respect these age ranges because life expectancy was not that long, even for opera singers. It would have seemed incredible in Handel's time to have a singer on a stage that could be over 50 and all singers tio be between 35 and 60.
The music is also played with modern instruments and a lot too powerfully and systematically trying to homogenize the various instruments of the orchestra into one single mash, which is definitely going against Handel's art. The music is too heavy and at times on the verge of umpapa brass band rendition.
On the other hand the plot is so well emphasized, cut up and set up that we have no difficulty following the fake letter, the fake succession, the surprise arrival of Claudius, etc. In fact the plot is made too rigid and there is no possible variation or hesitation or blurred situations. That is deadly for characters like Nero who is a childish pubertal capricious little pest, or Ottone who is a shy, hesitant and unsure lover and politician as well as military officer, probably, except if he compensates his shyness in his military occupation by too much authority. And I will not speak of poor Agrippina who is improvising a strategy that runs amok all the time and the pitiful Poppea who is fooling around with any male in sight to the point she nearly got her wings scorched.
The costumes were borrowed from David's paintings of Napoleon I's imperial fashion with high waistlines for women and all kinds of coats and hats for men. In Handel's time the opera singers were dressed in the court fashion of their time not in that 19th century French style.
This version of this opera is not worth much and I am surprised it came out at all.