Handel’s Rodelinda is one of my favorite operas. For me, it began with this DVD about which I should write some day, because I have basically memorized the thing, and I’d hate for all that obsessive listening to go to waste (It’s Roeschmann, Palmer, Chance et al. at the Munich opera in 2004).
Anyway. I went looking this past summer for additional recordings of Rodelinda. There is this one conducted by Alan Curtis with Il Complesso Barocco with Simone Kermes as Rodelinda, which is nice although sort of chilly (but I like Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Unulfo). I like live recordings, though, and other than the Munich DVD referenced above there aren’t many really good ones.
Except the one I got from these nice people at the Goettingen International Handel Festival. It’s of a performance from 2000, conducted by Nicholas McGegan with Robin Blaze as Bertarido and Dominique Labelle as Rodelinda. It took about two months for them to send it because the person who ran their shop was on holiday when I submitted the order and by the time she got back my one Europe-friendly credit card had expired so it didn’t work, and we had several very polite emails about that, and then I gave her the new expiration date and paid for the thing and she sent it to me. Anyway. I liked it.
For those whose boats are floated by this type of thing, here are the points about it that stood out to me:
First, they have an alto (Ewa Wolak) rather than a mezzo as Eduige and the difference in timbre really works. Here is “De’ miei scherni per far le vendette” (the first time I heard this aria on the DVD I was hearing ‘tangelo’ for ‘cangero’ and while I knew, intellectually, that the aria was not about oranges, I couldn’t help but think it.)
Rodelinda in this case is Dominique Labelle, who I had actually heard years before on a CD of Scarlatti cantatas with Christine Brandes that I no longer own and rather wish I had not lost. I rarely lose things, but somehow I lost that.
Labelle’s Rodelinda is a little softer and gentler than Roeschmann’s or Kermes’s.
Kermes’s Rodelinda sounds rather detached much of the time. For example, in “morrai, si” in Act I, where she’s threatening Garibaldo, I don’t actually think she’s really going to have anyone killed; it’s more of an: ‘in an intellectual sort of way, I will have your head.’
Labelle’s Morrai, si is quicker than Roeschmann’s or Kermes’s, a little more clipped and less threatening. Roeschmann is at her best when Rodelinda is on the warpath; Labelle’s best moments are the sadder, more contemplative sections, e.g Ombre, piante in Act I or Se’l mio duol in Act III. Her voice is softer-edged than Kermes’s and less earthy and gutsy than Roeschmann’s. Those notes just . . . float. It’s beautiful. Her Rodelinda is never really threatening: for example, during the scene in Act II when she tells Grimoaldo that she’ll do anything he likes – if he kills her son there in front of her, and he protests that she must be joking, her “no, non scherzo” is almost gentle, whereas Roeschmann (with that delicious smile) gives an impression of being entirely serious and if one were not a little afraid of Rodelinda right then it would be kind of surprising. (It’s here; the scene begins at 5.13, “non scherzo” is at 6.38)
I should also mention that for whatever reason, the Goettingen version cuts “Ritorna, o caro” in Act II. I was sad when I discovered this because I like this aria. Here is Roeschmann singing it.
As for the men. Robin Blaze (a countertenor) is excellent. Michael Chance (in the DVD version) acts the hell out of Bertarido (his ‘vivi, tiranno’ in Act III is great, as is io t’abbraccio), but in terms of sound, I prefer Blaze. The Bertarido in the Alan Curtis version is Marijana Mijanović, whom I like, but . . .I hesitate to say this because it goes against everything that I stand for, but I actually prefer a countertenor in this role. Shoot me if you must, but I do. I heard Andreas Scholl sing it at the Met once, and that kind of converted me.
Anyhow. The point is, the Goettingen recording is a minor hassle to get ahold of, but it’s worth it.