Agrippina

 

Handel Agrippina opera to a libretto by Vincenzo Grimani. Directed 2016 by Robert Carsen at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna. Stars Patricia Bardon (Agrippina), Jake Arditti (Nerone), Danielle de Niese (Poppea), Filippo Mineccia (Ottone), Mika Kares (Claudio), Damien Pass (Pallante), Tom Verney (Narciso), and Christoph Seidl (Lesbo). Thomas Hengelbrock conducts the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble. Set and costume design by Gideon Davey; lighting design by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet; video design by Ian Galloway; dramaturgy by Ian Burton. Directed for TV by François Roussillon. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A-

Agrippina was Handel’s first great opera hit, but it is not often produced now. All the characters existed in history, but this libretto is a completely fictional baroque tale of incessant intrigue and lust for power/satiation by all except for good girl Poppea and good guy Ottone. Robert Carsen’s take on this is a bright, clean, funny update with a wicked twist in the finale (not spoiled here). In this review, we focus on Carsen’s stagecraft and the brilliant images captured by François Roussillon.

Our first screenshot shows Mika Kares as the emperor Claudio:

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Kares emulates Mussolini as modern TV-celebrity dictator:

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But the emperor, surrounded here by eye-popping bimbos, is a mere amateur in statecraft compared to his wife Agrippina (Patricia Bardon), shown below dressed in one of her favorite black outfits:

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Agrippina’s sole objective is to seize power by contriving to have her 17-year old son Nerone (offspring of previous marriage) become emperor. Nero is completely dominated by his mother, who would then become de facto ruler of the whole world:

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Fake news! Nero is promoted by his handlers as compassionate leader (headline below: “Nero Comforts the Poor”):

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More bimbos:

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And for Agrippina we have the original Chippendales:

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Agrippina makes a special deal with Pallante (Damien Pass) shown next below. And in the next scene another courtier, Narisco, gets exactly the same treatment:

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In exchange for her favors, Agrippina asks both Pallante and Narsico on the right below (Tom Verney) to kill her rivals and then each other! The two figure this out and try to turn the tables. (Somehow the image below reminds me of the famous movie comedy, Dumb and Dumber):

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Poppea (Danielle de Niese) in her boudoir. She is the true love of Ottone, Rome’s greatest general:

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Ottone is loyal to his emperor. But when it’s mistakenly reported that Emperor Claudius has died, Ottone innocently thinks that he is to ascend the throne:

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But Claudius didn’t die, and he’s still in love with Poppea:

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Poppea’s life gets complicated with Ottone, the Emperor, and Nero all chasing her! Danielle has in recent years put on all the weight the law allows, but she is still fun to watch:

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After a blizzard of twists and turns, things almost get sorted out when Claudius gives Poppea to Ottone and appoints Nero as emperor. But there’s more to come and for that, you must get the disc:

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All the protagonists are fine to excellent singers and actors. David Vickers (2018 October Gramophone at pages 90-91) likes the direction and the acting of the characters as well as Hengelbrock’s conducting of the Balthasal Neuman Ensemble. But Vickers burns Carson for “ubiquitous clichés.” Well, we suspect that clichés may be hard to avoid in any fictional production about Nero and his friends. A safe grade for this title based on its artistic and moral attributes would be a B. But out of admiration for Carsen’s jaunty directing and the excellent work (as always) of François Roussillon, we will spring for a B+ or A- for this show.

Here's a clip from Naxos: