‘Magnificent’ Soprano Claire Booth Steals The Show At London Handel Festival

8 Mar 2023

Director Adele Thomas’s staged performances last week of four Handel cantatas at London’s Stone Nest for the London Handel Festival were capped by mercurial British soprano Claire Booth’s “unforgettable” portrayal of the death-bound Agrippina, with critics reaching for superlatives to capture her dramatic and vocal commitment:

“Claire Booth’s Agrippina – a platinum-wigged Hollywood starlet ageing disgracefully – seemed genuinely unhinged, spitting out virtuosic ornamentation, her voice terrifyingly expressive.” – Flora Wilson, The Guardian

“…the magnificent Claire Booth, turning Agrippina, Nero’s dreadful mother, into an extraordinary amalgam of Norma Desmond and Blanche DuBois.” – Richard Morrison, The Times

“To say Claire Booth, the last of the four, stole the show is unfair: each performer, as well as musicians and dancer, could claim that honour. Her mesmerising delivery of Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV 110 was nevertheless in a class of its own, a whole scena of mortifying sorrow. As a fully plasticised, false eyelashed, blond-wigged Venus in furs, Booth handled both text and music with powerful variety, but her bravery and vulnerability, when all is stripped away, flayed us all. An evening already rich and raw became unforgettable.” – Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

“It was Claire Booth as Agrippina (sister of Caligula, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero) who topped the bill as an unhinged platinum blonde of, shall we say, conflicted emotions towards her deceased son. Her self-laceration led her to strip away all the falseness of her painted beauty and stand alone and bereft, lost in the realm of sorrow. It was a vivid, courageous moment of theatre.” – Mark Valencia, Bachtrack

“The culmination was in Claire Booth’s extraordinary appearance as Agrippina, the mother sent to be executed by her son Nero. She strutted on to the stage in stilettos, a long fake fur coat, and a platinum blond wig that made her look part Marilyn Monroe, part Cher at the end of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Booth taught us the meaning of disintegration-with-style. She was a woman incinerated by her rage, tilting between manic laughter and singing that was nothing less than full-blooded in its fury.” –  Rachel Halliburton, The Arts Desk

“An actor-singer who can raise the dramatic heat as soon as she enters the stage” (Opera Now), “that most questing, resourceful and intelligent of sopranos” (Daily Telegraph), British soprano Claire Booth has been widely acclaimed for her “radiant, rapturous, wonderfully nuanced performances” and voice of “piercing purity [and] luscious richness” (The Scotsman). She is renowned for her breadth of repertoire, and for the vitality and musicianship that she brings to the operatic stage and concert platform, with a versatility that encompasses repertoire spanning from Monteverdi and Handel, through Rossini, Berg and Britten, to a fearless commitment to the music of the present day.

Recent highlights include a cross-genre jazz-inspired rendition of Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben with Alisdair Hogarth and Jason Rebello, the world premiere of Emily Howard’s Elliptics with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, concerts with the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall (including new works by Julian Anderson, and Colin Matthews), Irene in Vivaldi’s Bajazet, directed by Adele Thomas at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and around the pandemic a series of “viscerally powerful” (The Times) performances of La Voix Humaine; following a streamed performance for Grange Park Opera and a video performance specially recorded under lockdown conditions for Welsh National Opera, which earned her Best Actress at the Welsh Theatre Awards, she brought Poulenc’s solo tour-de-force in a triumphant return to London’s Wigmore Hall, with Opera Today praising her “thorough assimilation of both text and music and the intelligence of her delivery. Her intonation is flawless, and her diction perfectly clear […] it is the very unvarnished quality, an honesty of expression, that is perhaps her greatest asset. Such is her portrayal that one watched mesmerised by something excruciatingly real…”

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Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell