John Deaderick: The Empress Strikes Back — ‘Agrippina’ to show at Sierra Cinemas |

John Deaderick: The Empress Strikes Back — ‘Agrippina’ to show at Sierra Cinemas

John Deaderick
Special to Prospector

Know & Go

WHO: Sierra Cinemas The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

WHAT: Handel’s “Agrippina”

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 29 at 9:55 a.m.

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, E. Main Street Grass Valley

TICKETS: $23 adults, $21 seniors, $18 children 12 and under and students with ID. Available online at or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO:, 530-477-9000

This Saturday Grass Valley’s Sierra Cinemas presents the Met Opera Live in HD performance of Georg Friedrich Handel’s “Agrippina.”

A delightful Met debut this Saturday features marvelous mezzo Joyce DiDonato in the title role of Handel’s 1709 masterpiece. With only his second Italian opera, “Agrippina” gave the composer his greatest success to date. Loosely based on the actual historical intrigues of those nasty, incestuous Romans, the clever libretto, unusually for its time, avoids absurdity. The tone is arch, ironic, at times quite funny, at others, deadly serious. That the production of Sir David McVicar updates the setting from the Classical era to the present seems apt, given the rampant corruption and multiple abuses of power that define our current political crisis.

Certainly the idea of familial dynasty retains currency; nepotism has perhaps never gone out of fashion. Agrippina will stop at nothing to secure the succession of her son Nerone (we know him as Nero) to the throne. If heads have to roll along the way, so what?

The Emperor Claudius is besotted with the seductive Poppea, as is Nerone, as is Ottone. These romantic entanglements form the basis for Agrippina’s plotting, pitting each against the other to attain her ends, Of course, counter plots ensue. Be sure to read the synopsis in your program so you can keep up!

This is opera seria, not as is often mis-translated, serious opera, but rather a style where a series of differing, specific, emotional effects are structured one after another. Handel’s music is elegant, expressive, and loving to the ear. The technical demands on the singers are intense, as are the demands of characterization. In addition to looking forward to Joyce Di Donato’s performance, I can’t wait for the remarkable counter tenor Iestyn Davies as the tragic Ottone, perhaps the only character here with a trace of integrity. Davies was astonishing in 2017’s brilliant The Exterminating Angel.

Shortly following the success of “Agrippina,” Handel departed for England, taking his Italianate operatic style with him. His initial successes spawned John Gay’s parody, “The Beggar’s Opera,” and after a few hit and miss years, Handel turned to oratorio. And the rest, as they say, is history.

John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of “Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis,” available at

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