I was listening to this CD the other day while packing up my office. (We are having one of those weeks at work: there is a sort of looming packing tape crisis, because Nancy who has to clear all office supply orders is out on holiday so no more tape can be purchased, but for whatever reason everyone has really, really needed to tape things this week, so there is 1 (one) role of clear packing tape and 1 (maybe) tape dispenser. I am in possession of the tape.)
But as I was saying, I was listening to this CD of duets from Handel operas. This has precisely nothing to do with packing tape – anyone who successfully links the two gets a prize, TBD – but I have come to the conclusion that Alan Curtis’s take on Rodelinda is . . . weird.
This duet is the finale of Act II of the opera. Rodelinda and Bertarido have just been reunited, but Bertarido’s cover has been blown and he is about to be led away in chains. So, he and Rodelinda are saying what they believe may be their last goodbyes.
It was the way the orchestral part sounds in this performance that really caught my attention. The duet proper begins at about 0.42 (the first part of the track is the preceding recitative). There is something very sharp and dry about this interpretation – e.g. in the way the violin part sort of slices in at 0.47 and again at 1.01 and 1.06. Or rather, slices in and then pulls very sharply away. The notes under Rodelinda (Ciofi)’s first “io t’abbracio” are really acerbic and pointed, almost to the point of seeming to slow down the vocal part. The duet moves along at a very precise pace, and you hear the same looming in and then drawing back in the lowest string part in the last bars of the middle section before the repeat, around 4.48. The violins continue that sweeping slicing-in sort of sound to the end, e.g. after 6.00 or so. (This reminded me of bats, for some reason.)
I mentioned a complete recording of Rodelinda with Curtis at the helm ages ago and my impression of that was that there was something a little bit chilly about it. The duet on this CD with DiDonato and Ciofi, neither of whom is on that other recording, reinforces my sense that Curtis thinks this opera, interpretively, needs reserve, or dry precision, or bitterness, or something. It’s not that I take issue with this idea in the abstract, but — well, I guess I’m not a huge fan of the way it seems to work out in practice.