Handel’s masterpiece of political intrigue is the most devilish of comedies, bringing the machinations of one of opera’s most notorious characters to life in a text penned by a Roman cardinal. Agrippinawas an early success of Handel’s, and is presented in a revival of ETO’s 2013 production alongside ETO’s period instrument partners the Old Street Band, with stunning set and costume designs by Samal Blak, performed in a rapier-sharp English translation.
Join members of the creative team as they share an insight into the creation of this revival of Agrippina.
Energetic and witty
A wonderful vivid account of Handel's early anti-heroic satirical opera with a fine cast having the time of their lives and vibrant playing in the pit
When Agrippina receives pleasing confirmation of the death of her husband Claudio in a British naval battle, she sets about securing Claudio’s throne for Nerone, her son by a previous marriage. She sends separately for two influential leaders, Pallante and Narciso, to secure their support for Nerone, promising each that in return she will return their passion, and raise them to power.
Just as Nerone’s acclamation is achieved, Claudio’s servant Lesbo announces that the emperor’s life has been saved by Ottone, the commander of the army. Consternation is general, but suppressed. On arrival Ottone declares that Claudio has rewarded his bravery by nominating him as his successor. Incautiously, Ottone reveals to Agrippina that he loves Poppea more than the throne, and accepts her offer to speak to Poppea on his behalf.
Agrippina is poised to renew her strategy for Nerone’s advancement — and her own. Aware that Claudio fancies Poppea, Agrippina tells Poppea that Ottone has betrayed her by yielding her to Claudio in exchange for the throne.
Agrippina suggests that to avenge herself Poppea must make Claudio jealous and incriminate Ottone (by suggesting that he has made unwanted advances, and threatened her with violence if she sees Claudio). This she does with alacrity, once she secures a guarantee of Agrippina’s support.
Discovering Agrippina has deceived them both, Pallante and Narciso form an alliance.
At a public audience, Claudio accuses the unsuspecting Ottone of treachery, and rejects him. Claudio turns to his erstwhile friends and supporters, and his beloved Poppea, but each scorns him.
Poppea begins to doubt Ottone’s guilt. Pretending to doze, she tests him. When he indignantly asserts his innocence, she relates what Agrippina told her. Realising that she has been a pawn in Agrippina’s plans, Poppea plans revenge.
Agrippina broods: she is out on a dangerous limb, having confided in Narciso and Pallante, and played with Poppea and Ottone. Impetuously, she entices Pallante to murder Ottone and Narciso; and then she asks Narciso to murder Ottone and Pallante. She warns Claudio that an offended Ottone is a dangerous and popular threat — and persuades him to pre-empt any rebellion by declaring Nerone his heir. Impatient to be with Poppea, Claudio agrees.
Poppea hides Ottone, telling him not to be jealous because of anything he overhears as she sets out to trap Nerone, and embarrass Agrippina.
Nerone arrives, eager to make love to Poppea; she pretends that Agrippina is expected at any moment and he hides. Claudio enters, and Poppea complains that he does not love her. She says that she is still harassed by an unwanted suitor. Claudio reminds her that he has punished Ottone. At this Poppea claims he misunderstood her: it was Nerone, not Ottone, who bothered her. Concealing Claudio, Poppea summons Nerone, who resumes his courtship. In jealous fury, Claudio interrupts. Poppea frees herself of Claudio, and she and Ottone renew their fond pledges.
Shame-faced, Nerone begs Agrippina to protect him from Claudio. She makes him swear to stop courting Poppea.
Frightened and cornered, Pallante and Narciso reveal to Claudio their part in Agrippina’s conspiracy during his absence. Confronted by Claudio, Agrippina realises the game is up; she claims plausibly that she acted only to preserve Claudio’s authority. Coolly she also complains of his attention to Poppea, and strikes against any new accusations by revealing Ottone’s love for Poppea.
Astonishingly, Claudio orders Nerone to marry Poppea, and names Ottone as his successor. Nerone is unenthusiastic, and Ottone declines, claiming Poppea. Endorsing this exchange — and satisfied to extract himself from a compromising affair — Claudio nominates Nerone as his heir, and urges each couple to retire to the appropriate bed.
James ConwayOriginal Director
Samal BlakOriginal Designer
Bradley TravisRevival Director
Rebecca van BeeckRevival Designer