Handel – Rodelinda / Glyndebourne 1998 (2)

(Previous section here.)

The silent film conceit does more than just allow for a certain amount of hand-waving. It’s sort of interesting, isn’t it, to stage an opera – an art form where the performers are right there with the audience – with reference to film, where there isn’t any contact between the two? Especially given that here the performers are often addressing the audience directly. Unulfo’s “sono i colpi della sorte” in Act I is sung more about than to Bertarido. And during Act II, Eduige’s “de’ miei scherni per far le vendette” is done almost as an aside. Rodelinda is in the room, but she’s not paying much attention, except when Eduige gets a little too caught up in it, receives a sort of “what?” look from Rodelinda, and looks embarrassed for a moment. There is an extraverted quality to all this – lots of asides, little glances or facial expressions aimed at the audience, this type of thing. You can’t get deeply drawn into what is going on because your presence is so frequently acknowledged – you’re reminded that this is being performed for you. My point isn’t that this is a bad way to stage a Handel opera, just that it’s not necessarily one calculated to hit you where it hurts.

Andreas Scholl sounds terrific as Bertarido. It’s a lovely sound, even the lowest notes (e.g. in “confusa si miri”) and the control and precision with which Scholl sings is fantastic, e.g. in “vivi, tiranno!”

Here is “se fiera belva a cinto” from Act III, in which we get not only great singing from Scholl, but exciting orchestral playing too:

They’ve also got a very good countertenor, Artur Stefanowicz, as Unulfo, who sings a cheery and upbeat “fra tempeste.” Louise Winter pitches Eduige somewhere between vampy and silly. In the context of this particular production, it works. Kurt Streit has some really nice moments as Grimoaldo – e.g. the series of downward-moving phrases in “prigioniera ho l’alma in pena.” I also liked “pastorello d’un povero armento” in Act III (it’s the part where Grimoaldo decides to take a nap, hoping to escape his troubles for a little while.)

Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Rodelinda is well worth hearing. In a sense, the concept limits what can happen with this role – with all the hand-to-forehead-type theatrical gestures, Rodelinda almost necessarily comes off as sort of a damsel in distress. Not entirely a helpless damsel, of course, but a little floppy and mincing at times. And occasionally she is undercut by the stage direction – for example, at the end of “se’l mio duol” in Act III, where Rodelinda is pretty much at the end of her tether emotionally, Antonacci has to wrap this up, and then pick herself up and walk very quickly off stage, which doesn’t seem quite the ideal way to do the scene change. But I have no objection to the way she sounds. I went back and listened to “morrai, si” twice.

I’m not really sure what the upshot to this is. This dvd is probably worth seeking out in order to hear Scholl. And I can see the point, in a general way, of doing the silent film-style treatment of this opera. (Although once more, what is Bertarido supposed to be king of, again? I realize that this is probably a picky criticism, but I did find myself asking the question.) But although I enjoyed this, I’m not sure it’s a production I’d return to over and over. It’s pretty fun, though.

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