Opera in one prologue and three acts by Claudio Monteverdi. Performed in Italian with German surtitles
At Nerone’s seat of government: Fortuna, Virtù and Amore argue over their conflicting attitudes to life. Amore claims she is the most powerful. Ottone is waiting for his former beloved Poppea in front of her door. He is still in love with her. When he sees the Emperor’s two guards, he realises that Nerone has taken Poppea as his lover.
The guards bemoan the desolate state of the Empire since Nerone has shown interest only for Poppea and neglects the matters of state. After a night spent together, Nerone bids farewell to Poppea. Their relationship must remain secret until he has divorced his wife Ottavia. Poppea wishes to spend the future at Nerone’s side. Arnalta warns her friend Poppea to be careful of the powerful ones but Poppea remains undeterred.
Ottavia is grief-stricken by the loss of Nerone’s love and is distressed at the dependency of women. Neither her trusted page Valletto nor the philosopher Seneca can comfort her. Seneca receives a written warning that his life is in danger.
Nerone wants Seneca to approve and show understanding for his separation from Ottavia. The philosopher refuses to do so and therefore provokes Nerone’s rage. Poppea and Nerone demonstrate their love. When Poppea implies that Nerone is dependent on Seneca, the Emperor decides to kill the philosopher.
Ottone’s attempt to win back Poppea’s love fails. He is now convinced that Poppea will stop at nothing to become Empress, and to save his own life, resolves to kill her. To forget Poppea, he begins to woo Drusilla who has long sought his love. Drusilla is happy but surprised by this change of heart.
Liberto brings Seneca Nerone’s order that he has to commit suicide. While Liberto is virtually on the verge of collapse at having been forced to convey this order, and feels partly responsible, Seneca is outwardly composed. His followers invoke the beauty of life in vain. Seneca shoots himself.
Valletto and Damigiella discover that they are in love.
The death of Seneca brings Nerone’s marriage to Poppea nearer. Nerone celebrates his triumph together with Lucano. Ottavia forces Ottone to murder Poppea. If he does not, she will report him for attempted rape.
Drusilla, blinded by her love, is prepared to help Ottone by giving him her shawl to disguise himself.
Poppea is completely intoxicated by her forthcoming marriage to Nerone and draws Arnalta into her plans for advancement. Overcome by events, Poppea falls asleep. Ottone, armed with his weapon, approaches but Amore prevents him from committing the crime. Arnalta finds the shawl dropped by Ottone as he fled, and believes she knows the identity of the perpetrator.
Drusilla is arrested but protests her innocence. In the general tumult, Amore fails to attract attention. When Nerone threatens to torture Drusilla, she confesses to the attempted murder. Ottone then admits his guilt but at the same time puts the blame on Ottavia who had really ordered him to commit the crime. Pleased that chance has given him a pretext to banish Ottavia in exile, Nerone pardons Ottone but orders him to leave the city with Drusilla.
Overjoyed, Nerone and Poppea realise that they can now declare their love publicly.
Ottavia bids farewell to her country.
Arnalta reflects on the advantages and disadvantages of the social advancement which now awaits her too.
Poppea is crowned Empress.ed Empress.