Gillin Anderson and Jake Arditti
Gillin Anderson and Jake Arditti
© Richard Hubert Smith

The visual analogy is with a queen bee, with everything else in the hive happy to arrange for her comfort and success. Gillian Webster's finely sung (though not always clearly articulated) Agrippina – in the Handel opera of which she is the titular heroine – is more of a wasp. There's death in her sting and never a lick of honey other than the musical variety.

This is the one production in ETO's baroque opera tour which would have benefitted from full surtitles. Handel's orchestration is thicker as well as more florid, even with the Old Street Band under Jonathan Peter Kenny, than that for the earlier Monteverdi and Cavalli.

Samal Blak has devised a revolving beehive of a set, honeycombed for the Claudian palace and milk chocolate-quilted for Poppea's boudoir, the whole topped with a spinning cupid to remind us that love can be a whirlwind as well as a whirligig. James Conway's direction ensures that the humour as well as the pathos of the characters' posturing makes its point.

Ottone is sung by Clint van der Linde, who spins a legato line which underpins the character's honesty and deep sincerity as well as his pain. Andrew Slater's Claudio is indeed a bull of a man and his conniving advisers Narciso and Pallante are finely characterised and sung by Russell Harcourt and Nicholas Merryweather respectively.

If Paula Sides' Poppea is a seductive minx, Jake Arditti's Nerone is a spitefully selfish embryonic tyrant. Fluttering between them all minces Luke D Williams as the servant Lesbo, all powder and fluff with a bite to his voice which reminds one that no man – or woman – is a god to those who serve at close and intimate quarters.