The mezzo-soprano is currently starring in the first-ever Met production of Handel’s satirical opera through March 7.
This month, Agrippina, Handel’s dark satire of the Roman Empire, has its first-ever Met performances. In a scathingly trenchant new production by Sir David McVicar, Joyce DiDonato stars as the scheming title empress, determined to outsmart her rivals and put her son Nero on the throne. She recently spoke with the Met’s Matt Dobkin about how politics and power—for better or worse—never go out of style.
This production marks the Met premiere of Agrippina. So, for our audiences who may not be familiar with the story, who is this woman exactly?
Agrippina is a mother, a power-hungry mother whose son can do no wrong. He perhaps isn’t the brightest bulb in the socket, but she’s on a mission to make him emperor, and she will go to any ends and pay any cost to make that happen. She’s manipulative, she’s wicked, she’s impatient. In our production, she might have a drinking problem. And what we have in the end is one of Handel’s most creative, clever, and ironic approaches into opera. I think it’s going to surprise everybody who comes to see it.
How would you describe the score for Agrippina, versus some of Handel’s other operas?
There are a lot of interesting creative elements to this score that vary from something like, say, Ariodante or Alcina. It is one of Handel’s most inventive pieces, and we see him, as in Giulio Cesare, really going into black comedy. He uses a lot of recitative, because there’s a lot of text, a lot of plot, lots happening, miscalculations, a lot of deception—and that information has to come across. The surprising thing is that there are a lot of continuo arias, which make this piece quite intimate. And these arias, instead of being long expositions that last 12 minutes as in other Handel operas, sort of pass by very quickly because the next plot point is coming. So we’re in a different sound world that’s constantly shifting and changing as the story just flies by.
To read the complete interview, visit Playbill.