This production of Handel’s Rodelinda remains in Italy – we see Garibaldo reading Corriere della sera in Act II – but the story has been moved to the 1920s. Rodelinda is not the queen of the Lombards here in any obvious sense. I’m not actually sure what she’s queen of. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
But there are definitely people in positions of authority here. Except for Grimoaldo, who wears some very snazzy suits, the men wear military uniforms. But lest you think hm, Italy in the 1920s and military uniforms – I wonder where they’re going with that? rest assured that this opera is not about fascism. Or, at least it wasn’t about fascism in any way that I was able to determine. If fascism is commented upon in the woods and no one is there to hear it, etc. etc.
Because what this production is really fooling around with is silent movies. One of the first things you notice about this production is that it is monchrome. Not the filming, but the production itself. The costumes are all gray and black and white. The performers wear white makeup and dark lipstick (even the dudes) and the interior settings are similarly grayscale. It looks like a silent film. Even the lighting is dim and dark around the edges, and at some points, e.g. at the end of “ritorna, o caro,” the performers appear to be hanging in the air, as if they really were on a screen.
It’s not just how everyone is dressed, either – the stage direction is also derived from this type of movie. Rodelinda (Anna Caterina Antonacci), for example, does a lot of flopping and cringing and hands-to-temples flailing, and there is the occasional moment of fairly slapsticky humor, as when Eduige (Louise Winter) is attempting to retrieve a gun from the bottom level of a coffee cart – long story – and has to do so by reaching between the legs of a soldier, who thinks that one of his mates has grabbed his ass, and — well, it’s sort of cute, in fact.
Oddly enough, this concept put me in mind of that vaguely kabuki-like production of Mitridate, rè di Ponto, where the idea seemed to be to evoke one highly stylized art form in order to present another. Here, we’ve definitely got something similar: the hand-waving and pearl-clutching of silent film being used to evoke the . . . well, I guess the hand-waving and pearl-clutching of opera seria. It’s not over the top, though. Like Glyndebourne’s wonderful Giulio Cesare the production manages to poke fun at itself now and then while also taking the music seriously enough to be worthwhile.
Here is “Scacciata dal suo nido,” which is fun not just for the dulcet tones of Andreas Scholl, but for some pretty string playing (I love the pizzicato in this) and also because it gives you a sense of the general feel of this production – musically enjoyable, but dramatically on the lighter end of the spectrum.
And if you’re wondering whether they bring in splashes of color at the end . . . of course they do! Flavio gets to scamper about and hand everyone red roses, and then he gets to scamper about and toss flower petals into the air. (But I won’t complain too much. The kid has had a rough few days, right? And he’s probably going to be in some trouble once Mom and Dad find the cigarette ashes that Garibaldo scattered in his school satchel in Act II, so he’d better get his scampering in when he can. I am not making that up about the cigarette ashes, either. Garibaldo – Umberto Chiummo, who is so consistently and gloriously unsubtle in this role that I’m starting to imagine that there is depth in it somewhere – gets some of the most obvious stage direction in the west in this production. During “tirannia gli diede il regno,” for example, he kills Flavio’s little captured butterfly with a cigarette. Even the butterfly probably saw that one coming.)
But there’s a little more to the silent film idea than just the colors.
(Next part here.)