Castle Capers Thrill Houston Opera Lovers
Ars Lyrica Houston stages a vivacious rendition of Handel’s Agrippina
Photo credits: Pin Lim and Amitava Sarkar
Society Writer: Shannon McKirchy
General Editor: Margaret MacMillan
Publisher: Connie Kwan-Wong
Ars Lyrica debuted Agrippina, its first full-length Baroque opera, at Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, November 16, 2018. Founder and artistic director, Matthew Dirst, conducted; Tara Faircloth stage directed; and Macy Lyne designed the costumes.
Agrippina brings actual characters from Ancient Rome to life in a story of its own filled with intrigue, farce, drama, and real human emotion. Centered around the ruses of Agrippina, wife of Emperor Claudio, which entangle the entire royal household, the plot explores the themes of deception and the human struggle for survival. Powerful women are at the helm of this performance swaying the emotions and actions of the male characters.
Despite a plot driven by deceit and betrayal, there were plenty of serious moments during Ars Lyrica’s production that were balanced by adept physical humor and facial expressions. To help the audience follow the dialogue, while remaining true to the opera, projected English translation was provided. The simple yet opulent set complemented the roaring ‘20s costume design, which added modern panache to the Roman Court. Patrons embraced the adaptation, thrilling to the music, performance, and story.
The music, under Matthew Dirst’s capable direction, soared, and the singer/actors delivered riveting performances. Macy Lyne’s eye-catching flapper-era costumes added just the right amount of razzle dazzle, and Tara Faircloth directed with nuance. The talented cast included Sofia Selowsky as Agrippina, John Holiday as Nero, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Ottone, Camille Ortiz as Poppea, and Timothy Jones as Claudio.
Executive Director of Ars Lyrica Houston, Kinga Ferguson, summed up the importance of this production, the culmination of three years of hard work, with these words: “We’ve chosen this opera because it is a masterpiece of Handel. It’s full of drama, comedy, and tragedy. It’s quite an ambitious endeavor for a small organization like Ars Lyrica to raise funds for a fully staged opera, so we just launched a fund-raising initiative called Opera Circle. Everybody can join so they can come and support the opera and see these rare Baroque productions being done in historical context with wonderful casts of international singers here in Houston.”
About Ars Lyrica Houston
Founded in 1998 by harpsichordist and conductor Matthew Dirst, Ars Lyrica Houston (ALH) presents a diverse array of music from the 17th and 18th centuries on period instruments. Its local subscription series, according to the Houston Chronicle, “sets the agenda” for early music in Houston. The company also appears regularly at major festivals and conferences. ALH’s distinctive programming favors Baroque dramatic and chamber works, and its pioneering efforts have won international acclaim.