February 14th, 2020



Well, musically the Met’s “new” Agrippina is quite fine. Presumably it’s happening because Joyce DiDonato wanted to do it, and that’s an excellent reason to do anything. David McVicar’s production is 20 years old, so although it’s new to the Met and the first time the opera has been produced by the company, it seems a little shady to say it’s a new production. It’s been updated so the present-day setting is 2020 and not 2000, but to the extent that there’s a discernible time to it, it seems to waver between the 1950s and 1980s.

And the approach is generally “oh, all that singing is so boring!” so it’s very busy, lots of capering about during the arias. Now, the thing about Handel operas is that the arias aren’t where the action happens. But McVicar’s concept is that it’s a farce, so action we shall have. Yeah, that’s a lot to pick apart. That the piece can be played for laughs isn’t, perhaps, too much of a stretch. All of the men love one or the other of the two women, and there’s a lot of plotting and scheming based on that. But so much here seems built on distrust of the piece, maybe even the whole genre. Taking it all seriously is probably deadly, but this seems to swing too far in the opposite direction. It’s very thorough, but the interpretive foundation is questionable.

But the performance is really superb, especially considering how often the singers have to contend with extraneous action.