Handel: Agrippina… HWV6

Piano reduction… based on the Urtext of the Halle Handel Edition by Andreas Köhs.
Bärenreiter (BA 4092-90) £40.00, xix + 350pp.

Agrippina is an amazing opera. Think of Monteverdi’s L’incoronatione di Poppea. The title refers to the leading lady – Nerone is perhaps a minor character. Agrippina is the most powerful figure in Handel’s opera, followed by the younger Poppea. All the male characters are scorned! I’m an enthusiast for the work itself. It isn’t a serious opera at all. I’ve commented on it in various reviews, and it is becoming popular. Surtitles are essential unless it is translated into English… or German or whatever!

A major problem with the Bärenreiter vocal score is its weight. If singers are trying to learn their parts, they will find it heavy to hold. If you place it on a music stand, there are problems in taking the weight or keeping the pages open. It is ludicrous for singers learning the secco recitatives  to have the same chords every time – much more sensible to have the bass figured. There’s no need for the additional material (from p.293-350): those who are interested can get them from the score. However, HHA makes no attempt to make the editions accessible. The scores are expensive, but could easily be passed on to Bärenreiter to produce in something like A4 and sold comparatively cheaply – probably at the price of the vocal score! A further consideration is that my score (A4 format) weights 640g with a price of £30.00: the Bärenreiter vocal score weighs 980g. We don’t bother with vocal scores, but do produce parts. Vocal scores are required for oratorios, but not for operas.

There’s no point in evaluating the work itself when the new score isn’t available. It takes about an hour and a half each way to get to the Cambridge University Music Library – but having been a librarian for several decades, I don’t read in libraries but do have a substantial library at home! I have a variety of microfilms, but I’d only spend time on a full score. Incidentally, the concept of a vocal score didn’t exist in Handel’s time! And, why does HHA insist on printing oboe parts when most of the time all that is needed is cuing the violins, especially since it isn’t clear when both oboes double the violin I or divide between I & II. But I’ve wandered off… Why is HHA so falsely pedantic, and why can’t we get score copies for review?

Clifford Bartlett