Joyce DiDonato in the title role of Handel’s “Agrippina.” Photo: Paola Kudacki / Met Opera

  • Agrippina – Sunday, June 7 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)

The fabulous Joyce DiDonato stars in the title role of Agrippina, the tale of a ruthless mother determined to make her son Nerone the emperor of Rome. Although based on serious events, Handel crafted a black comedy offering a lighthearted and satirical spin. Reimagined for present times, this Baroque opera’s theme of political malfeasance will ring clear with modern audiences. Agrippina gives you everything you want in an opera—royalty, scheming and intrigue. The powerhouse cast features mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey in a “pants role” as Nerone, soprano Brenda Rae as Poppea, countertenor Iestyn Davies as Ottone, and Matthew Rose as Claudius.

Fun fact: You may wonder why Nerone, the son of Agrippina, is portrayed by a woman. In fact, the role was originally performed by a male castrato singer. Castrati (plural of castrato) underwent a surgical castration during puberty to preserve their high range. Modern audiences may find this practice alarming, but the castrato’s ability to powerfully interpret vocal passages was highly popular during the Baroque era when Agrippina was composed.

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