By Alex Pinsk || Editor-in-Chief
On Saturday, February 29th, the F&M Classics Department hosted its annual “Classical Day,” during which students were invited to attend a live screening of the Metropolitan Opera’s Agrippina.
Agrippina, originally written by George Frideric Handel, is an opera in three acts which tells the story of Agrippina’s attempt to take down the Roman Emperor, Claudius. Agrippina, in turn, intends for her son Nerone, and consequently herself, to take power. The opera embodies the ravenous power struggle extant in the context of ancient Roman society, complete with themes of humor, ambition, desire, and control.
The casting of the piece was particularly striking. Joyce DiDonato carries the show, playing the role of “power-hungry” Agrippina (metopera.org). She captivates the audience with her immense vocal range and authoritative presence, particularly in her “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate” (Thoughts, you torment me) performance. Perhaps most distinctive is the role of Nerone, played by Kate Lindsey. Nerone is a male character; however, the “casting of a woman for the role of Nero was clever and captivating,” said Ben Grove ‘20. The “voices of every single character were incredible,” Grove continued, but he thought Nerone’s was particularly noteworthy.
I found that watching the opera directed for and suited to a live-stream setting was quite effective. While the audience was not sitting directly in front of the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center at the time of the performance, we were still very much able to engage with the performance. The live-stream allowed for the camera to zoom-in on the stage, providing us with an up-close view of the characters and the set. It gave us a clearer picture of costumes, movements, and stage angles. Students noticed that with these up-close shots, the nuances of each individual character became more apparent. “I was amazed with the performers’ control of their bodies. The fact that they were able to move in the ways they did while singing was incredible,” commented Sara Vitelli ‘20.
The show was spectacular, providing us with not only an up-close view of the performance but also with backstage conversation and interviews with the cast. Furthermore, the subtitles were presented directly on the screen, so we did not have to look above the stage or by our seats, as we may have had to do at the Met itself. The modern setting gave the story a new tone and made the content more applicable to the modern day. “Agrippina was a modern take on a power struggle common to the ancient elite,” said Grove.
Ultimately, Agrippina wins. Nerone takes the throne, and Claudio calls upon the gods to bless the future of Rome. This was a happy ending, to the dismay of a few students. However, we can expect nothing less from a Roman comedic performance.
Perhaps Kyra Lisse ‘22 puts it best, claiming that attending the performance was a “rare opportunity to not only see one of Handel’s finest, but also to witness it close-up—which is more than many at the actual Met could say. The performers led with gravitas, wit, and, of course, astonishing talent.”
Many thanks to F&M’s Classics Department for sponsoring Classical Day and providing students with the opportunity to observe their classical education in a new context.
Senior Alex Pinsk is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.