Original Research - Special Collection: Marianne Dircksen Festschrift

Agrippina as prima donna: The reception of Agrippina, mother of Nero, in Handel’s opera Agrippina

Betine van Zyl Smit
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 53, No 2 | a2506 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v53i2.2506 | © 2019 Betine van Zyl Smit | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 June 2019 | Published: 31 October 2019

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Betine van Zyl Smit, Department of Classics and Archaeology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom

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This article examines the way in which Agrippina, the mother of the emperor Nero, is depicted in Handel’s opera Agrippina. The opera’s libretto, written by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, draws upon the historical information in Suetonius’ biography of Claudius and upon the events described in books 12 to 14 of Tacitus’ Annals. The article shows how Grimani juggled the chronology, events and relationships among the characters to omit the tragic and gruesome details, and to create a satirical comedy of succession.


Georg Friedrich Handel; Vincenzo Grimani; Agrippina Opera; Emperor Nero; Emperor Claudius; Empress Agrippina; Suetonius’ Biography of Claudius; Tacitus Annals 12–14; Opera Libretto; Poppaea Sabina; Otho.


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