Rodelinda / Röschmann, Chance, Palmer et al. / Bayerische Staatsoper 2004 (1)

Roeschmann - RodelindaThis was the DVD that turned me into a Röschmann fan. For most people, it’s one of the Mozart ones, isn’t it? Usually either La Clemenza di Tito or the Guth Nozze di Figaro or sometimes that beautiful Zauberflöte from 2003. I saw this before I saw any of those. I had heard her voice before, on that CD of Handel’s German Arias, but for whatever reason it was when I was watching this — somewhere around ‘morrai si’ that I found myself thinking whoa, who IS that soprano?

Anyway. Handel’s Rodelinda is the story of Rodelinda, who is queen of the Lombards. Her husband, Bertarido, was deposed by a usurping nobleman, Grimoaldo. Everyone believes that Bertarido is dead, because Grimoaldo handed him over to the Huns and told them to off him, and that’s what the Huns told Grimoaldo that they did. Grimoaldo had been pestering Bertarido’s sister Eduige to marry him, but now that he’s got the throne Grimoaldo has turned his sights on Bertarido’s widow Rodelinda, who (along with her young son) he has taken prisoner. He spurns the advances of the ambitious Eduige, who has changed her mind about Grimoaldo since he has become king. Grimoaldo’s henchman, Garibaldo, is plotting dark things against him, and intends to use Eduige to accomplish them. Eduige has plans of her own, focused primarily on getting back at Grimoaldo for the aforementioned spurn.

But Bertarido is not dead. He and his loyal servant Unulfo, who is Bertarido’s man on the inside in Grimoaldo’s operation, plan to regain his throne. Most of the story is concerned with the process by which Grimoaldo tries to manipulate Rodelinda into marriage, Rodelinda tries to extricate herself and her son from captivity, everyone figures out that Bertarido is still alive (the Huns took the money and ran), Grimoaldo has a crisis of conscience, Garibaldo reveals his true colors, and ultimately order is restored.

This production of Rodelinda is set not in the misty northern Italian past, but in the present – the 1940s or so, to judge from the clothing. These kings and queens are of the mobster type. And it works. It makes the stakes seem petty, which has the weird and unexpected effect of making the characters seem more human.

The production as a whole is literally very dark. There are a lot of large looming pieces of scenery, including a row of huge cut-outs of former kings/mobsters that recede into the distance for the scene in Act I where Rodelinda is visiting Bertarido’s tomb. The floor is black and shiny and because of the way this is lit and how the characters are dressed what you see most of the time are faces and a lot of shadows.

There is the occasional weird touch, as in Act II (which takes place in an alley behind a seedy waterfront bar) during “prigionera ho l’alma in pena” when Grimoaldo is exulting in how much he doesn’t mind the chains of love one bit, behind him his henchmen go into a very orderly and slick kind of mobster dance for a few minutes. I am not sure what is up with that, but I’m content to leave it alone. The same is true of Unulfo’s tape recorder earlier on in Act I. During Grimoaldo’s “se per te giungo a godere” Unulfo has a tape player and mike, and in addition to playing a recording of a crowd yelling “duce, duce!” as Grimoaldo holds forth from a window above, he appears to be recording the ‘speech.’ It’s not clear to me what the point of this is (I mean, I get the ‘duce, duce’ thing, I guess – but the rest of it?) and it leads into a slightly odd comic moment later on as Unulfo gets tangled in all the cables as he tries to comfort the stricken Bertarido, who has witnessed what he thinks is a sincere promise from Rodelinda to marry Grimoaldo. Tangled communications – get it? Ha. But it’s a little off, in terms of tone.

However. Unulfo’s tape recorder is not the star of this show.

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