Image: Pin Lim

Houstonians know Ars Lyrica for its impeccable renditions of Baroque chamber selections. Its concerts have been expressions of some of the era’s beloved classics and hidden gems. And in addition to its chamber sets, the organization has, on occasion, presented scenes from Baroque operas.

Now, however, it’s making the leap to its first full-length opera, and the group is doing it with another first, Handel’s operatic debut, Agrippina.

This comedy will be a “luxurious, Great Gatsby-era romp with devious characters drawn from ancient Rome,” promised stage director Tara Faircloth.

It’s the story of Agrippina, wife of Roman Emperor Claudius, who, upon learning her husband has died in a shipwreck, plots to put her son Nero on the throne. But that turns out to be much harder than she thinks.

The opera, composed between 1709 and 1710 is “the work that forged his reputation as a theatrical genius,” says Artistic Director Matthew Dirst, who will be conducting.

The outing brings to the stage some of Ars Lyrica’s most loved artists, including Sofia Selowsky as Agrippina, John Holiday as Nero, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Ottone, Camille Ortiz as Poppea, and Timothy Jones as Claudio.

It’s Holiday’s first outing in the role, but he’s no stranger to the baroque repertoire, having performed in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and singing the title role in Xerxes with companies around the country. The Herald Times recently described his voice as possessing a “vocal instrument that threatens to equal the name artists in his range.” The Houston native and countertenor also recently received third prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition held in Los Angeles, proving that he’s more than making a name for himself on the classical stage.

“What I love about Agrippina is that there are all these weird little triangles going on,” he says. “Agrippina is angling for my character to ascend the throne, and as a dutiful son, I’m telling her with her wise counsel, I’ll do it. But Claudio wanted someone else to succeed him. It’s just a really juicy story about politics and family and ambition. There’s a whole lot there.”

As of late, Holiday spends most of his days on the road, singing concerts around the world. But he’s loving he chance to sing in front of a hometown audience.

“Not only do I get to see my friends and family when I’m here,” he says, “but they get to see me and see what my work is about. And I just love showing what I’ve learned in the city that gave me my start.”

Nov. 16 and 18. Tickets from $23. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2525. More info and tickets at arslyricahouston.org.

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