(Previous section here.)
I saw this production live a while back (2006? maybe? 2008? It wasn’t 2004 when it premiered, and it definitely wasn’t 2011 – it was somewhere in the middle) and at the time the performance that impressed me the most was Andreas Scholl as Bertarido.
He’s still impressive here. The singing is heartfelt and often – as in “dove sei, amato bene” in Act I or “con rauco mormorio” in Act II – very beautiful. I recall being amazed when I heard this live, and my reaction this time was not as strong, but a live performance versus a DVD may be a case of apples and oranges. The other countertenor, Iestyn Davies, also gets some nice moments as Unulfo – “un zeffirò spirò” in Act III stood out to me in particular. Finally, I have never enjoyed the Rodelinda/Eduige/Bertarido/Grimoaldo/Unulfo quintet at the end more than I did here. There something about the range/quality of voices they’ve got and the way they mesh that really worked.
Oh yeah, and Renée Fleming is in this too. I’m not sure whether I should feel weird saying this or not, but although I admire her singing, I’m not a massive Fleming fan. I love listening to some of her Mozart and Strauss recordings, but she’s never made me cry or caused me to start grinning like an idiot out of sheer joy at the performance. Maybe I just haven’t heard the right recording or the right performance at the right time.
There are moments in this performance that are achingly beautiful. I listened to “ombre, piante” in Act I twice, for example. (On the subject of translation: I have seen “ombre, piante” rendered in English as “spirits, flowers” and “shadows, trees” and probably a few other things as well: and it seems to me that the two examples above, snippets though they are, are quite different in tone – it can make a difference.)
At the same time, Fleming’s take on the character did not really grab me. This Rodelinda is very sweet and affectionate and has moments of girlishness (fingering her hair, grabbing a ring on the stable wall and leaning back to swing back and forth in happiness as she anticipates her husband’s arrival toward the end of Act II) which I guess are charming. She’s almost too likeable – not a moment of unpleasantness through the whole thing. I kept trying very hard to like this performance – and I certainly didn’t dislike it – but I could never pick out a moment where I found myself utterly absorbed or heard things in the music that I hadn’t before. I think there is a little more darkness in the opera, and in the title character, than gets communicated here.