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You could reasonably make the argument that Dorothea Röschmann’s voice is on the heavy side for this role. I have heard it performed by lighter-sounding sopranos, and there is a difference. That said: screw the difference, because this is a wonderful performance. Here is “ritorna, o caro” from Act II. You can hear her breathing, yes, but those highest notes just . . . gleam.
And it’s more than just a lovely sound. That aria is one of my favorite parts of this production – there’s something direct and intense and quite moving about it. (A point about lighting. This production doesn’t have much of it, sometimes to the point where we lose people – there’s a bit in Act III where Grimoaldo is trying to get a kitchen knife sword away from Bertarido before he hurts someone and right before this Rodelinda has just lain down on the floor with a big smile on her face for reasons despite having seen this many times I have yet to determine, such that one worries there for a minute that she is going to get tripped over – but it turns out the boys have plenty of space to deal with that kitchen knife and/or sword and she does not get tripped over. All the darkness leaves you in a bit of suspense about that, though, because I at least lost track of her completely. But in the case of ‘ritorna, o caro’ the darkness, with just the one bright window stage left, really works.) I was thinking about why this might be so, and while part of the answer is that direct and intense are, generally speaking, hallmarks of a Röschmann performance of just about anything, it’s more than that. This is the part of the opera where Rodelinda has just learned that her husband is alive and that she will soon see him again. Here Rodelinda’s longing is almost palpable.
After all, Rodelinda has been on her own for the preceding part of the story. And while she is capable of pulling herself together and revealing an impressive force of personality (I have said this before: Röschmann is capable of being slightly terrifying in the best possible way, e.g. in “l’empio rigor di fato” and “morrai, si”) there are a lot of little moments in this performance that indicate that this is not Rodelinda’s normal modus operandi. She would rather not have to be doing all this – which makes “se’l mio duol” in Act III, where she believes that Bertarido has been killed after all, riveting to listen to and watch. (That last “chi svena” gets me every time.) This woman is not hard like Vitellia. She has moments of icy composure and sharp political insight and, when motivated by the appropriate kinds of feelings – conjugal love, loyalty, a sense of her own dignity – can be kind of magnificent (Grimoaldo’s line in Act I after “l’empio rigor di fato” about “have you ever seen such pretty contempt” – it’s “più bel disprezzo” in the original, and “pretty” seems not quite the right word for what he and we have just witnessed) but she’s not someone who plays politics because she likes it. Hence that painfully intense mixture of both longing and relief in “ritorna, o caro.”
And then there’s Eduige. One of the things that I wrote down while watching this again is that this is an opera with a lot of angry women in it. Rodelinda’s is of the righteous type. Eduige’s is a little different. Eduige in this case is Felicity Palmer, and while I have seen a certain amount of grousing from the YouTube commentariat that Palmer is too old for this role, I politely beg to differ.
(Next part here.)