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Theatre / Agrippina

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Agrippina is an opera seria by George Frederic Handel to the libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, first performed in Venice on 26 December 1709. It is now one of the most frequently-performed Handel operas.

The plot, dripping with irony, draws inspiration from Roman history, with almost everyone being a Historical Domain Character. Empress Agrippina the Younger hears that her husband Claudius has perished at sea and quickly schemes to crown her son by previous marriage, Nero. While in fact, not only has Claudius survived, but he has been saved by his army's commander Otho, whom he plans to name as his successor. However, Agrippina doesn't give up and uses the fact that Claudius, Otho and Nero all court Poppea, a beautiful Roman lady, to play all of them against each other. Some of her schemes get exposed, but she still manages to convince Claudius of her loyalty to him and manipulates him into bequeathing the throne to Nero after all, while giving Poppea's hand to Otho.


The opera contains examples of:

  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Agrippina is the Evil Matriarch in the story, but other characters, save for Otho, are far from being the paragons of virtue. Claudius is a weak-willed adulterer, Poppea is a manipulative flirt, Nero is a Royal Brat and tyrant in the making, and Narcissus and Pallas are Professional Butt-Kissers.
  • Consummate Liar: Agrippina is perfect at this. In the very first act, we see her deceiving two of her lovers, promising to each that he will rule by her side.
  • Dramatic Irony: It can be subtitled "Dramatic Irony: The Opera". Though it ends with general celebration, the characters are far from being reconciled with each other, and we are aware that:
    • Claudius was, according to most historians, killed at the orders of his "loyal" wife.
    • Agrippina was, according to most historians, killed at the orders of her beloved son.
    • Poppea later became Nero's mistress, divorced Otho, was crowned Empress and eventually killed by Nero. After Nero's death, Otho had a short reign as Emperor.
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  • Hypocrite: Claudius and Agrippina accuse each other of cheating and profess love and loyalty to each other, while actively cheating behind each other's backs.
  • Karma Houdini: After plotting against almost everyone, Agrippina remains triumphant.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Claudius and Agrippina are married, but Agrippina has affairs with Pallas and Narcissus, and Claudius has an affair with Poppea, who is also courted by Nero but is mutually in love with Otho.
  • Manipulative Bitch:
    • Agrippina, who moves the strings in practically the entire Roman court.
    • To a lesser extent, Poppea, who first sets Claudius on Otho to get her revenge on the latter, then, as she realizes she has been deceived, on Nero to get her revenge on Agrippina.
  • Proud Beauty: Poppea is first introduced gushing over the pearl jewels she is planning to wear, and then she begins happily enumerating her suitors.
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  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Claudius returns right when Nero is about to be crowned.
  • Villain Protagonist: Agrippina is a cruel, manipulative, power-hungry woman who loves nobody except herself and maybe her son.
  • Villainous Mother-Son Duo: Agrippina and Nero. At least in this opera, they are more or less devoted to each other while planning intrigues against everyone else.

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