George Frideric Handel

Sister to Caligula, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero

8 16 23 28 June
6 July
The Academy of Ancient Music Book now


Composer – George Frideric Handel

Librettist – Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani

The Academy of Ancient Music


Following their five-star production of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Michael Chance and Robert Howarth join forces again to lead the musical direction in another wonderful story from the classical world. Anna Bonitatibus heads a world-class cast including the much sought-after countertenor Raffaele Pe, 2011 London Handel Singing Competition winner Stefanie True, and Jonathan Best making a welcome return to The Grange.

Walter Sutcliffe, Northern Ireland Opera’s artistic director, and his designer Jon Bausor’s inspired vision brings to life the humour, satire and egomania of one of opera’s most outrageous leading women. The youthful Handel packed Agrippina with the full range of his astonishing imagination, setting a libretto at once hilarious, moving and clever. Handel’s music is bursting with originality and fun, as well as carefully considered moments of eye-watering beauty.

Production Team
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Robert Howarth


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Michael Chance

Musical Preparation

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Walter Sutcliffe


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Jon Bausor


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Wolfgang Goebbel

Lighting Design

Howarth’s opera engagements include Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria for The Grange Festival, Opernhaus Zürich, WNO, Birmingham Opera Company and ETO; Giulio Cesare for Opera North; The Fairy Queen in St Gallen, Haydn’s L’Isola Disabitata for the Norwegian Opera, L’Incoronazione di Poppea with the AAM at The Barbican, London and in Venice and Dido and Aeneas with The English Concert at the Buxton Festival. Alcina for the Hamburg State Opera, Theater St Gallen and ETO, Monteverdi Ballo del Ingrate and Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda for the Birmingham Opera Company and Tolomeo for ETO. He has also directed Charpentier La déscente d’Orphée aux enfers for Glyndebourne’s Jerwood Programme, Charpentier Actéon for the Dartington International Summer School and Almeida La Spinalba for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Howarth led a number of programmes with the OAE such as Messiah in Spain and Moscow; Monteverdi Vespers 1610, The Glory of Venice – Gabrieli and Bach Lutheran Masses. He has conducted Messiah with The Hallé Orchestra, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, the Irish Baroque Orchestra and the Royal Seville Symphony Orchestra; St Matthew Passion with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra; Apollo and Daphne with The St James Baroque Players; Bach Cantatas with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra and Athalia for the Ambronay Festival. He regularly co-directs La Serenissima, most recently for Vivaldi’s Ottone in Villa.

Music Director for Claire van Kampen’s play Farinelli and the King staring Mark Rylance and Iestyn Davies at the Duke of York’s Theatre and Dido & Aeneas with The Birmingham Opera Company.

Michael Chance is Artistic Director of The Grange Festival. He has established a worldwide reputation as one of the foremost exponents of the male alto voice in all areas of the classical repertoire.  His oratorio and recital performances have included Carnegie Hall, Concertgebouw, Musikverein, and Wigmore Hall with programmes ranging from Elizabethan lute songs to world premieres commissioned including works by Richard Rodney Bennett, Alexander Goehr, Tan Dun, Anthony Powers, John Tavener, and Elvis Costello .

In opera he has worked at  La Scala Milan, Sydney Opera House, New York, Lisbon, Oviedo, Leipzig, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam , ROH, Glyndebourne, and ENO.  His appearances include the title roles of Orfeo (Gluck),  Rinaldo , Ascanio in Albai, and Solomon,  Ottone/ Poppea, Oberon/Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tolomeo/Giulio Cesare.  He premiered  Birtwistle The Second  Mrs Kong (Orpheus) and Weir A night at the Chinese Opera  ( Military Governor).

He has an extensive discography, including many Bach and Monteverdi recordings with John Eliot Gardiner and Handel’s Semele  for Deutsche Grammophon for which he received a Grammy Award. He was awarded the CBE in 2009.

Wolfgang Goebbel has worked in Theatre, Dance, New Music and Opera, with artists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, on stages throughout the world . Productions with opera companies of Paris; Berlin; Tokyo; San Francisco; Houston; New York City; Dallas; London ; Geneve ;Barcelona ; Moscau ; Athens; Rom; Milano; Torino ; Munich;Frankfurt;Stuttgart;Hamburg; among others. He is „Knight of Illumination“ since 2011 . He lit „Wonderfull town“ „Cenerentola“ „ Enchantress“ „Marriage of Figaro“ „Thais“ „Tristan and Isolde“ „Rusalka“ „Norma“ „Cunning little Vixen“ „Eliogabalo“ for the GRANGE.
Future plans :” New opera productions in Dresden,Belfast,London,Glasgow and Vienna 2018

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Ashley Riches


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Anna Bonitatibus


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Raffaele Pe


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Stefanie True


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Christopher Ainslie


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Alex Otterburn


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James Hall


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Jonathan Best


British bass-baritone Ashley Riches read English at the University of Cambridge where he was a member of the King’s College Choir. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and subsequently joined the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House. This season he joins the BBC New Generation Artist scheme.

His operatic roles include Morales Carmen, Mandarin Turandot, Baron Douphol La Traviata and Officer Les Dialogues des Carmelites for the Royal Opera, Schaunard La Bohème and the Pirate King The Pirates of Penzance for ENO, The Fairy Queen with the Academy of Ancient Music, Apollo e Dafne with the Pannon Philharmonic, Israel in Egypt with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Christmas Oratorio on tour with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

In concert, he has appeared with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Arcangelo, Gabrieli Consort, Berlin Philharmonic and Monteverdi Orchestra under some of the world’s finest conductors including Esa- Pekka Salonen, Robin Ticciati, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Roger Norrington.

Engagements this season include his first Count Almaviva Le nozze di Figaro at English National Opera, Purcell’s King Arthur with the Academy of Ancient Music and concerts with Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Bremen Philharmonic, BBC NOW and recitals at Wigmore Hall and Oxford Lieder.

Anna Bonitatibus, born in Basilicata in Italy, made her debut at La Scala in 1999under the baton of Riccardo Muti. Since then her interpretations have included over fifty operas, covering early baroque to bel canto repertoire and collaborating with all the major conductors and directors.

From her first recording in 1992, Anna Bonitatibus distinguished herself through the operas of the baroque period, Neapolitan opera buffa and French repertoire. Thanks to her performances of familiar works by Mozart, Handel and Rossini, she has performed on Europe’s leading stages and in concert halls worldwide. Her en travesti roles deserve a special mention and as the embodiment of Cherubino, she has become one of the most acclaimed performers of Mozart.

Among her many award-winning recordings, Anna Bonitatibus received an International Opera Award in 2015 for her disc Semiramide, la Signora regale. This autumn she’ll release en travesti, a compilation of male roles wrote for female singers together with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester.

Born in Italy, Raffaele Pe started his vocal and organ studies at the Lodi Cathedral where he was a chorister, working under Pietro Panzetti. Raffaele has recently made his US debut at the Spoleto Festival USA, interpreting the leading male role of Delio in the premiere of Cavalli’s Veremonda, with Vivica Genaux.

Other highlights include Ottone L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi in Tokyo and at the Schwetzingen Theater, Leone Bajazet by Gasparini for the Barga Opera Festival, Roberto Griselda by Vivaldi working with British conducted David Bates, and Santino in the pasticcio Amore Siciliano working with Leonardo Alarcon. Raffaele is the first countertenor ever invited by the Verona Opera Festival. This season includes Linceo Ipemestra by Cavalli for Glyndebourne Summer festival, conducted by William Christie and directed by Graham Vick, Oberon Midsummer night’s Dream by Britten at the Cremona Teatro Ponchielli, Brescia Teatro Grande, Teatro Sociale di Como, Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, Pavia Teatro Fraschini and Teatro Municipale di Reggio Emilia. Raffaele Pe sings Arsace Berenice at the Göttingen International Handel Festival.

Some of the most recent engagements for Canadian soprano Stefanie True include Celia in Händel’s Lucio Silla at the Internationale Händel-Festspiele Göttingen, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in San Francisco with Voices of Music, the title role in Händel’s Esther with La Risonanza led by Fabio Bonizzoni, Belinda in Dido and Aeneas at the Händel-Festspielle Halle, Clomiri in Händel’s Imeneo at the Internationale Händel-Festspiele Göttingen, the title role in Händel’s Theodora with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Second Woman in Dido and Aeneas at Carnegie Hall with Les Violons du Roy and Amor Profano and Michal in Händel’s Saul with the Freiburger Bachchor.

Stefanie placed first in the London Handel Singing Competition. She studied voice with Catherine Robbin at York University (Toronto). She then went on to study at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague (Netherlands) with Barbara Pearson, Diane Forlano, Jill Feldman, and Michael Chance, where she completed her Masters in Early Music .

Christopher Ainslie started his singing career as a chorister in Cape Town and moved to London in 2005 to study at the Royal College of Music.

Ainslie has rapidly established himself as a leading interpreter of the countertenor repertoire, and is also active in exploring repertoire not usually associated with the voice-type.  He has appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at Glyndebourne, English National Opera, Opéra de Lyon, and Central City Opera.

He previously sang Ottone Agrippina for the Göttingen Handel Festival. Other recent engagements include Unulfo Rodelinda for the Teatro Real, Athamas Semele at Garsington, Orfeo Orfeo ed Euridice for Opéra de Lyon and for Opéra National de Lorraine, and David Saul for Glyndebourne.

In 2017/18, he sings Giulio Cesare for English Touring Opera, Oberon at English National Opera, and appears with Les Musiciens du Louvre and Mark Minkowski, and with Philharmonie Zuidnederland.

In his first professional season, Alex Otterburn debuts as Eddy at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scottish Opera’s new production of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek; and joins the company as a 2017/18 Emerging Artist. His roles include Harlequin (Ariadne auf Naxos) in a new co-production with Opera Holland Park, Marchese (La traviata)

Highlights last season included Alex’s critically acclaimed debuts as Guglielmo in Daisy Evans’ production of Così fan tutte for Bury Court Opera and John Styx in the Royal Academy’s production of Orphée aux enfers. Elsewhere, Alex made his European concert debut as Curio (Giulio Cesare) at the Concertgebouw with the Symphonie Atlantique, in addition to making his debut as Schaunard (La bohème) with the Lyric Opera and RTÉ Concert Orchestra conducted by David Heusel.

Alex is the proud recipient of an Independent Opera Fellowship award.

Current and future projects include FARINELLI (Singing voice) Belasco Theatre (on Broadway), GUILDENSTERN Brett Dean’s Hamlet Glyndebourne on Tour, PALLADE L’Incoronazione di Poppea Opéra de Lyon Monteverdi’s L’orfeo Opera Royal de Versailles with Monteverdi Choir, ADALBERTO Ottone Festival de Beaune, ZEPHYRUS Apollo et Hyacinthus Classical Opera, Coronation Anthems, Fairy Queen, Handel’s Jephtha Academy of Ancient Music, First ANGEL/BOY (cover) Written on Skin Royal Opera House, Messiah Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, as well as a number of recitals throughout the U.K. and further afield.

Operatic highlights include PASTORE III L’Orfeo Bayerische Staatsoper, Monteverdi Choir and BBC Proms, ORONTE in Riccardo Primo London Handel Festival, SPIRITI and SECOND WITCH Dido & Aeneas Vignette Productions, OperaUpClose, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen Temple Ensemble, CUPID and HUNTSMAN Venus & Adonis Dunedin Consort and Opera Lyrica, OSMIDA La Didone Ensemble Serse, EDYMION La Calisto Hampstead Garden Opera, BERTARIDO Rodelinda Amade Players and OBERON (cover) in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Jonathan Best studied at St John’s College‚ Cambridge and at the Guildhall School of Music. He made his operatic debut in 1983 with Welsh National Opera‚ and has since sung with all the major British Opera companies and beyond.

Most recent engagements include Father Traurnacht (Festival d’Aix en Provence), Sarastro The Magic Flute‚ Alcindoro La Boheme and Le Bailli Werther (Scottish Opera)‚ Judge Turpin Sweeney Todd (Théâtre du Châtelet‚ Paris and Münchner Rundfunkorchester)‚ Drunken Poet The Fairy Queen ( Handel and Haydn Society‚ Boston)‚ title role Saul (The Sixteen)‚ Capellio I Capuleti e i Montecchi‚ Don Fernando Leonore‚ Zebul Jephtha (Buxton Festival)‚ Don Alfonso Cosi fan tutte and Lord Henry The Picture of Dorian Gray (Den Jyske Opera)‚ Quince A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Speaker The Magic Flute (Garsington)‚ Achilla Giulio Cesare (Opera North)‚ Pastor Oberlin Jakob Lenz and Bartolo The Marriage of Figaro (English National Opera)‚ The Adventures of Mr Broucek (Opera North/Scottish Opera  and the world première of Sally Beamish’s The Sins (Psappha).


Act One

When her husband, the Roman emperor Claudius (Claudio), is apparently drowned at sea, Agrippina plots for her son Nero (Nerone) to be his successor.


In fact, Claudius has been saved by Otho (Ottone) and the imminent coronation of Nero is abandoned.


Otho arrives and tells Agrippina that Claudius, in gratitude, has appointed him his successor. He also tells her that he is in love with Poppea.


Agrippina, aware that Claudius also loves Poppea, tells Poppea that Otho has agreed to give her to Claudius in return for the crown. She suggests to Poppea that by telling Claudius that Otho has refused Poppea access to him, the emperor will dismiss Otho from the throne.

Act Two

Otho claims his reward from Claudius who denounces him as a traitor. He is then vilified by Agrippina, Poppea and Nero.


But Poppea begins to doubt his guilt, and eventually Otho convinces her of his innocence.

Agrippina then tells Claudius that Otho is plotting against him and persuades him to appoint Nero emperor.

Act Three

Poppea explains to Claudius that whereas she once thought Otho had betrayed him, it was in fact Nero, whom she then reveals hiding behind a curtain in her room. Claudius dismisses his stepson, who informs his mother of Poppea’s treachery.


Agrippina confronts Claudius, berates him for succumbing to Poppea’s influence, and claims that Otho loves Poppea, thereby forcing Claudius to summon all three.


He orders Nero to marry Poppea and leaves the succession with Otho, who requests that he might forego the crown for Poppea’s hand in marriage. Claudius agrees, and blesses Poppea and Otho’s marriage.