Although it's unconventional for Met to stage a Handel opera, David McVicar's modern-dressed staging is a splendid masterpiece that should increase the Handel frequency of the opera house. Agrippina, written by 24 years old Handel, is the oldest opera Met is ever staged. With its eternal subjects of politics, power and ambition, David McVicar's production manage to convince you that nothing is ever changed since Ancient Rome.
David McVicar opened the scene with a curtain that has the image of Romulus and Remus fed by a she-wolf. This image is associated with ancient Rome. We see this curtain four times due to the setting changes at the background. Of course, McVicar used the curtain to hint us about the storyline rather than just blank safety curtain. First time is before the begining. Second time is during Ottone's famous “Voi che udite il mio lamento,” which he sings after every character on the stage accuses him. We see that the she-wolf is hurt, representing the Ottone's damage. The third time is during Nerone's “Quando invita la donna l’amante,” image is similar to the begining suggesting that in Nerone's eyes, nothing changed. And the fourth time is after Nerone crowned. We see that she-wolf is murdered. Ancient Rome is not in good hands.
Agrippina, appearing in her black night dress, looking sexy and powerful, was a convincing villain all along. Her plan to make her son Nerone the future king was ready at the beginning, and it was hard for the audience to not fall for her strenght when she was freshen her makeup at the first scene. She used her sexuality to fool Pollente and Narciso, even do a hand job to Narciso in a public restaurant under a newspaper with excellent facial acting. You can read her every thought of disgust she felt for Narciso, her ambition to fool him, her double acting of enjoying what she's doing.. You don't feel distant, in fact you understand her every motive in every act. Joyce DiDonato amazed with for powerful sound and wonderful portrayal of a complicated character. Her reaction of the news that Ottone saved the king from deadly storms and named king after his heroic act, is so realistic. Her double acting is not exagurated at all. Her rolled eyes, her reluctant applause for king's return was so fun to watch. She somehow manages to be convincing villain and made the audience laugh with her facial expressions that hints her true motivation. DiDonato's peak performance moment was her “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate'' that she appeared with a bottle after her plans interrupted momentarily. Her gentle beginning that turned into a powerful crescendo was her minor 'mad scene' that will be overcomed very quickly of course. Her power will be visible again when she licked the gun pointed at her face by Pollente. She will be dancing along with her new plan to murder Ottone and pushed the scenery off the stage by her gentle touches to the pillars on ''Ogni vento ch’al porto lo spinga.”
Nerone is a teenager who has no plans, never serious, always high.. While other characters are more down-to-earth, Nerone is an exagerated portrayal of the youth. Tattood and always wiping his nose, Kate Lindsay did a wonderful act, often made audience laugh. I'm not denying that it was definitely fun to watch and interpret however, as wonderful as the idea is, the acting was a bit too much. It was caricatured rather than a believable. Her eyes were always wide open, sometimes she was crawling at the ground and doing a cardio during an aria (congrats for the performance, though). These moments, we lost the meaning.
Overall, Nerone is modernised so cleverly. He trying to gain the public's heart by distribting free food for the poor, but only making fun of them until a reporter arrives for the scene was a heartbreaking truth about today's policy. His spoiled, childish acts was very entertaining. At the heart of the plot, he amused audience with his 90s dance figures or giving someone a finger from their behind. As spoiled and ridicule as he is, Lindsay convinced us of his attraction for Poppea. When she playfully pleases him at the bar scene, I saw the sexual torture he's in in her acting, bravo!
McVicar is so clever when re-interpreting the masterpieces that he never overlooks the text & scene coordination -that is ofter overlooked. In his aria “Come nube che fugge dal vento (Like a cloud that flies from the wind)'', he pours a can of cocaine and start sniffing that resulted with the loudest laugh of the night.
At the end, when he finally gets the throne, he climb the stairs like an animal, dancing in every step and when he reached on top, gives everyone a finger.. Although there's a tiny detail of Poppea reaching for Nerone when he was at the stairs unable to resist his power, and the two trying to hold hands until Ottone stops them; hinting the rest of the story; Poppea will be the second wife of Nerone. Similar to that moment, Nerone also acting to strungle Agrippina momentarily until she turns and gave him a hug; again suggesting he will kill his mother evantually.
Poppea started as an innocent character that is driven to wealth and power with her first scene admiring the pearls. Than Agrippina showing with the same dress as her, makes her give a high note of surprise indicating her naive character. As the plot advances, she becomes more and more crafty. In her first scene, she has two gay friends with her, an elegant touch for her lifestyle. After her first scene with Agrippina, she's stripped down by her made on the stage, get a normal skirt-jacket combination and goes to streets searching for cabs. We see video image of the city at the background. She searches for a cab and gets wet in the rain. When she meets Claudio, she again undresses and get a sweater in return for her wet clothes. When Cladio trying to seduce her by his striptise show, her attemps to get away from him made audience laugh. After she thought Ottone betrayed her, she gets a bottle of wine and chocalate box and showed the basic symptoms of depression.
The second act was set in a bar. Poppea getting drunk while other customers try to hit on her, buys her a drink and take secret selfies with her. When Ottone arrives, she hides behind flowers. When she gets drunk and put her face down to the table, Ottone spots her and signs how about how beautiful she look when she sleeps. It is wonderful to see these text realizations in such a diverse staging. The famous harpsicord solo is placed on the stage, played by Bradley Brookshire. McVicar also made a dancing sequence during harpsichord solo to two customers at the bar. Brenda Rae perfectly sang her duet with the harpsichord and proved to be equal for Agrippina during the opera.
Ottone, sang by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, was a straight-forward character all along the piece. Since he represents the moral of the story, he doesn't have any obscene act. He had a boy band dance during “Coronato il crin d’alloro'' and made our hearts ache with “Voi che udite il mio lamento.”
Claudio, played by Matthew Rose, was a so-called king that had no power display at all. He is portrayed as a modern politician who plays golf indoors.
Pollente, sang by Duncan Rock, was supposed-to-be powerful man who was played easily. His opposite Narciso is a cry-baby. His character amused the audience. First, with the Agrippina's hands between his legs, melodic embollishments of ''Volo pronto e lieto” becomes the sexual noises which was very amusing.
Lesbo, played by Christian Zaremba, was less interested with the events surrounding him. He often followed others by the side of his eye while continuing to scroll down on his phone.
Handel's opera is a long one. Every time the plot advances, every character involved has a seperate aria. McVicar's production showed how much can be done to re-interpret and keep the audience alert in every single moment. Linked with today's politics and everyday ambitions of power, we were seen that even after the mobile phones, so called 'free' media, drugs and alcohols to be entertained; we are still on the same road.