George Frideric Handel’s Rodelinda, a masterpiece of Baroque opera, premiered in London in 1725.
This production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and conducted by Harry Bickett, premiered at The Metropolitan New York in 2011.
There’s great music. Handel dominated the London opera scene for 25 years. He became a naturalised British citizen in 1727.
There’s great singing. The cast includes Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Kobie van Rensburg, Shenyang, and two countertenors, Andreas Scholl and Iestyn Davies. There’s great playing by the orchestra.
The story has been updated and set in Handel’s lifetime (1685-1759).
Rodelinda (Renee Fleming) is discovered in bed and chained to it. She is prisoner to Grimoaldo (Kobie van Rensburg), who usurped the throne from her husband, Bertarido (Andreas Scholl), whom she believes is dead. Grimoaldo proposes marriage.
Bertarido returns in disguise and thinks his wife is being unfaithful. He does not know that she thinks he is dead and that she is marrying Grimoaldo only to save their young son’s life.
The opera is full of sorrow. The ardour is intense. The anguish is real. Rodelinda suffers deeply. Bertarido is overcome with grief and weeps buckets. Even Grimoaldo grieves. The only person who is not grieving is Garibad (Shenyang), the villain, whose ambition is to get the throne for himself.
Bertarido is arrested and put in prison. Eduige (Stephanie Blythe), his sister who is in love with Grimoaldo, and Unolfu (lestyn Davies), his best mate, a really decent chap, come to his rescue.
Baroque opera is static. Aria follows aria. Wadsworth keeps the singers moving throughout and the movement is not distracting. The singers repeat themselves endlessly; but the repetitions are varied, physically and vocally. The production is full of realistic detail. The detail enhances the drama.
The production is handsome. The 18th century costumes are lavish. Thomas Lynch’s 134-foot set is amazing; moving sideways it contains many sections, bedroom, main hall, vast library, courtyard and stables.
The singing is glorious. And the singers are good actors. So, too, is Moritz Linn, who plays the little boy, a silent role, relying entirely on reaction
Handel is great. Stephen Wadsworth’s production of Rodelinda is a memorable experience.