09 October 2013 01:03 PM
“Agrippina” was Handel’s first masterpiece, and its satirical tone and pervasive sexual innuendo were calculated to please Venetians at carnival-time, rather than to cater for the sober tastes of Hanoverian London. Labyrinthine is too mild a word for the complexity of its plot, which turns on the machinations by Agrippina, wife of the Roman emperor Claudius, to ensure her son Nero’s accession to the throne. Engineering (as she imagines) her husband’s demise, playing two enemies off against each other while gunning for a third and laying traps for a fourth, the intrigue she weaves makes the brain reel. Meanwhile young Poppea, the love-interest for every male in sight, sets up a manipulative web of her own. Heroic Ottone, who finally gets his girl when everyone else has been neutralised, is the only character who doesn’t get mocked for duplicity and general bad behaviour.