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Rodelinda, regina de'Langobardi
by George Frideric Handel

  Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2006

Andreas Scholl as Bertarido, Renée Fleming as Rodelinda

Photo: Sara Kulwich / New York Times

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4 May 2006

copyright © The New York Times

Rodelinda was the spearhead of the Handel revival, and that point is as sharp as ever. Remembered for 200 years (if remembered at all) as series of arias beautiful in themselves but dramatically inert, this piece and Handel operas in general awoke in the early 1920's, thrived in German opera houses and have since spread to the kind of luxurious production the Metropolitan Opera gave it last season and revived on Tuesday night.

Some parts have changed hands but with no loss of quality. Doing Handel well at the Met requires convincing personalities, athletic agility and enough vocal power to reach out to a house of almost 4,000 seats. Listening, for example, to Stephanie Blythe (Eduige) or John Relyea (Garibaldo) reminded one of new generations of sports figures somehow genetically engineered to project size without clumsiness and finesse without fragility.

Handel worked in a style we might have called psychological drama. Singers don't do much; instead, they think and feel, either directing their agendas toward one another or as asides to the audience. Arias begin, do something different in their center and then repeat what they started with, not unlike a Cole Porter song. Without visible signs of plot advancement to help them along, newer audiences have tended to fidget.

The Met's splendid evening on Tuesday explained much. I have nothing but admiration for Stephen Wadsworth's handling of Baroque opera's ''nothing much happens'' style of theater. He avoided the awkward poses or make-work gyrations of ''non-combatants'' onstage during the singer of the moment's long expostulations. Colleagues pay attention to colleagues, and with a dignity and sincerity that implies action we don't quite see.

Handel's music is treated for what it is: a fiery collection of character studies and roller-coaster emotional rides. Musically, individual numbers walk in circles, but Mr Wadsworth encourages a communal sensibility that takes action forward. Vertical opera, in other words, is given a horizontal effect.

Thomas Lynch's handsome sliding sets put Rodelinda roughly in Handel's own 18th century and in a sunny Mediterranean world of tile roofs and cypress trees. Wifely fidelity is the theme. Rodelinda (Renée Fleming), a queen thought to be widowed, finds herself pursued by suitors who want her throne.

With a little gentle cribbing from Homer and the Greeks, her husband, Bertarido (Andreas Scholl), returns undercover, and all (except the evil Garibaldo, who ends up dead) are restored to civility. Four hours of opera pass swiftly.

Mr Scholl's convincing presence and excellent countertenor voice received a loud and long reception on Tuesday. Ms Blythe and Mr Relyea sang the darker-sounding parts with power and clarity. Kobie van Rensburg returned as Grimoaldo and with the kind of agile, penetrating tenor that suits Handel in big opera houses. Christophe Dumaux, a first-rate countertenor, sang the role of Unulfo.

Ms Fleming's Act II duet with Mr. Scholl was a thing of beauty. She also sang affectingly in up-tempo arias. Given too much space and time to interpret, she tends to overload her performances with hesitating accents, surges of tone and other vocal ticks. The audience seemed to love them all, and I'm sure with reason. After some uncertain ensemble at the start, the Met orchestra did well by the conducting of Patrick Summers, who also played harpsichord continuo parts.

Financial Times - Martin Bernheimer

3 May 2006

copyright © The Financial Times

Many opera lovers – sometimes even this one – pine for the golden past when singers could really soar in the romantic arches of Verdi. Of course, hardly anyone in those not-so-distant days could manage Handel. Now the woods are full of florid-flight specialists, and even countertenors come a dollar a dozen. The only authentic element missing, thank goodness, is the castrato.

All this came to mind on Tuesday when the mighty Met revived its popular production of Rodelinda, anno 2004. The cast included two recent arrivals, both falsettists, plus a new conductor. Still, the standards stayed high.

In this convoluted story of courtly love, hate, intrigue and reconciliation, Andreas Scholl has inherited the heroic duties from David Daniels. The German virtuoso commands tones considerably lighter and brighter than those of his predecessor, but he sang with stylish poise and acted with expressive point.

Christophe Dumaux, who took over as the secondary good-guy, exuded sympathy though he lacked Bejun Mehta’s vocal bravado.

Otherwise it was Handelian business as usual, elegant business, with Renée Fleming unfailingly exquisite as the lofty protagonist and Stephanie Blythe unfailingly sumptuous as her descending counterforce. Kobie van Rensburg remained gently crafty as the reformed usurper, and John Relyea boomed darkly as the nemesis on the premises.

Inheriting the baton from Harry Bicket, Patrick Summers reinforced suavity, propulsion and refinement.

Stephen Wadsworth’s busy production, which propels the seventh-century plot to the 18th, makes effective use of emotive poses, artful choreography and balanced compositions, some fussy-business notwithstanding (did we really need that live horse?). Martin Pakledinaz’s Baroque costumes look lavish.

Thomas Lynch’s realistic decors frame the inaction picturesquely, though they overwork the stage machinery. Even clap-happy Met audiences can tire of sets that roll from one lush locale to another all night long. The night, not incidentally, lasts four hours.

Classics Today - Robert Levine

2 May 2006

copyright © Classics Today

The Met’s year-old Rodelinda has just returned with a couple of cast changes, and it captures the imagination and pleases almost as much as it did last season. Updating the opera to 18th century Milan (it was originally set in the 7th century) allows for a certain grandeur that fits the size of the Met, and the sets by Thomas Lynch – a palace library with coffered ceiling, a grand memorial for the King near the palace stables – are handsome and allow for easy movement. Stephen Wadsworth’s direction is sensitive and true to the characters: Rodelinda is steadfast and faithful without ever being sappy, Bertarido retains his nobility even under the worst circumstances and the villainous Grimoaldo’s repentance is vivid and affecting.

The most important alteration is in the choice of conductor. Last season’s Harry Bicket is a Handel/Baroque specialist, and he brought snap to the Met Orchestra’s strings and sharp attacks which put the drama front and center. Patrick Summers, Houston Grand Opera’s music director, who has taken over, is a fine conductor and has impressed with his work in the past. But his Rodelinda, by comparison with Bicket’s, is more Romantic and less urgent. Some might like the softer edge; this reviewer preferred Mr Bicket’s approach.

Soprano Renée Fleming, for whom the production was conceived, is back in the title role, and she is as radiant as before. Rodelinda has eight arias, and they make every possible demand on the singer. Flights of coloratura are as frequent as are long-breathed, legato lines, and the character is taken through sadness, anger and resignation with Handel’s music. Ms Fleming colors each aria skillfully, dispatching the difficult music with grace and beautiful tone. Her tendency to scoop up to notes and over-Romanticize the vocal line is kept in check most of the time – though not as effectively as last season - and aside from some obvious tiring near the end, her performance is stunning. Taking over from David Daniels as Rodelinda’s presumed-dead husband, King Bertarido, is countertenor Andreas Scholl, making his Met debut. Mr Scholl’s well-focused, narrow tone is more dramatic than Mr Daniels’, but like his predecessor, he is effective in both exclamatory and tender moments, and his acting is convincing and extroverted. His slow, lamenting arias are sung with an endlessly beautiful stream of sound. Grimoaldo, the repentant villain, is one of Handel’s few leading tenor roles and Kobie van Rensburg, singing the evening’s most florid music, portrays this character’s anger, ambition and conflict with startling energy and accuracy. Mezzo Stephanie Blythe, as Bertarido’s sister (and Grimoaldo’s spurned fiancée) sings Eduige, as she did last season, and her grand, dark tone covers the needs of the role. Her angry arias were less effective than last season, due mostly to Mr Summers’ relaxed reading. In the role of Unulfo, Bertarido’s friend, countertenor Christophe Dumaux, also making his debut, exhibited a voice of rare beauty. Rounding out the cast is John Relyea as the ultra-villain Garibaldo, reminding the listener of a young Samuel Ramey.

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