By Norm Robins
Henry Kissinger once said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” If that’s true this is one of the sexiest operas ever written, probably the sexiest.
Agrippina stars world famous diva Joyce DiDonato in the title role of David McVicar’s hilarious updated version of this 1709 classic. If you think Shakespeare’s King Lear tells the story of a dysfunctional family you haven’t seen anything of the sort until you have seen this one. Very briefly, it tells the story of Agrippina as she plots the downfall of her husband Emperor Claudius and the succession to the throne of her son Nero. But please don’t be fooled. This is an old opera that couldn’t be more current, and that is no doubt why the Met puts it into modern times.
The history behind this opera is fascinating. Nero was born in 37 CE (AD), son of Agrippina the Younger. She was the sister of another infamous emperor Caligula. After her failed plot to murder her brother she was exiled. Caligula was murdered making Agrippina’s uncle Claudius emperor. She returned to Rome. Agrippina poisoned her second husband and married Uncle Claudius in 49 CE after he murdered his wife Messalina in the same year.
Having made sure that son Nero (Nerone in the opera) became emperor, she was murdered by son Nero. Just to finish Nero’s story, he had his first wife Octavia executed in 62 CE and then married Sabina in the same year. She died. In 66 he married Statilia Messalina after forcing her husband to commit suicide. But here is the topper of all toppers: In 67 CE Nero castrated a former slave Sporus and then married him because he bore a strong resemblance to Nero’s dead wife Sabina.
Having trouble following all this, are we? Not to worry. Handel, librettist Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani (a very political guy), McVicar, and divine diva DiDonato make it all very clear. Lots of fun, too.
Agrippina will be telecast live in HD from the Met Saturday, February 29, 2020, at the Century 12 Riverside and Summit Sierra Theaters. Curtain is at 9:55 AM with a run time of 4 hours 10 minutes. Seating is reserved at the Summit Sierra and open at the Century 12 Riverside.