Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Comedy & Irony: 'Agrippina'

Caroline Worra

Let's take a look at the BLO's upcoming production, Handel's Agrippina. The libretto, by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, describes the Roman queen Agrippina (CAROLINE WORRA) trying to secure the throne for her son, Nerone (DAVID TRUDGEN).  What happens next is a story full of comedy and irony. 

David Trudgen
Grimani's libretto is full of irony, which Handel reflects in the music (sometimes by having the music completely at odds with the text). His settings sometimes illustrate both the surface meaning, as characters attempt to deceive each other, and the hidden meaning of the text. For instance, in her Act I aria "Non hò che per amarti" Agrippina promises Poppea (KATHLEEN KIM) that deceit will never hurt their new friendship, while tricking her into ruining Ottone's (ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO) chances for the throne. Handel's music illuminates her deceit in the melody of the piece and minor key tonal scheme, while a simple, emphasized rhythmic accompaniment hints at clarity.

In Act III, Nerone's announcement that his passion has ended and that he will no longer be bound by it ("Come nubbe che fugge dal vento") is set to bitter-sweet music which suggests that he is deceiving himself. In Ottone's "Coronato il," the agitated nature of the music is the opposite of what the "euphoric" tone of the libretto suggests. Contrasts between the force of the libretto and the emotional color of the actual music would develop into a constant feature of Handel's later London operas.

- Rob Tedesco, University of Auckland

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