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Renée Fleming and Andreas Scholl lead a superb cast in Stephen Wadsworth’s celebrated production of Handel’s Rodelinda from the Metropolitan Opera – based on the "Live in HD" transmission to cinemas worldwide.
The title role is unique in featuring no less than eight magnificent arias. Renée Fleming’s triumph in the first run of the production was hailed by The New York Times, "Ms Fleming draws on every resource of her artistry in this portrayal: luminous sound, exquisite ornamentation, floating high notes, emotional volatility."
Playing opposite her is Decca Classics countertenor star, Andreas Scholl, as King Bertarido, assumed dead, but returning to reclaim his throne and his queen.
The handsome period production sets the drama of public and private passion in the Milan of Handel’s own time – majestically presented in the set designs of Thomas Lynch and the lavish costumes of Martin Pakledinaz.
“the orchestra delivers a nimble performance...Scholl's cool Bertarido and Iestyn Davies's mellifluous Unulfo make a pleasing contrast to Joseph Kaiser's splenetic Grimoaldo...Blythe displays handsome tones, while Shenyang sings the brutish role of Garibaldo with elan. Fleming, without whom none of this would be happening, is perplexing: an exquisite voice untroubled by consonants, mermaid-like in its dolorous beauty” BBC Music Magazine, January 2013 ****
“Bicket coaxes the Met into a credible Baroque style...Iestyn Davies's intelligent singing and acting make Unulfo an especially likeable confidant to the heroic couple. Joseph Kaiser's acting of the sorrowful tyrant Grimoaldo undergoing a crisis of confidence ('Pastorello') is first-class...Wadsworth's amiable production comes to the boil nicely in acts 2 & 3.” Gramophone Magazine, February 2013
“In this packaging of [Handel's] Rodelinda, the unfriendly size of the Met auditorium is neutralized...we can better appreciate the period theorbo and recorders that conductor Harry Bicket adds for flavoring in the pit. Via this medium, characters give every sign of communicating with one another, while the producer's agile camera focuses tightly on individual expressions...[Fleming] invests her high-speed passagework with convincing venom” Opera News, April 2013
“Filmed at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011, this revival of Stephen Wadsworth's 2004 production must be one of the starriest Handel performances in recent years, with Renée Fleming as the titular heroine, Andreas Scholl as her husband Bertarido, the mighty dramatic mezzo Stephanie Blythe as Eduige, and Iestyn Davies (now an acclaimed Bertarido in his own right) as Unulfo. Harry Bicket conducts.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, August 2014
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Rodelinda stems from a period of great creativity in Handel’s life, 1724-25, following hard on Giulio Cesare and Tamerlano. Although it met with only moderate success. One of its first revivals was via the German Handel Society in the 1920s, and then the Handel Opera Society revived it again, with a cast including Joan Sutherland, during the 1959 celebrations of Handel’s bicentenary. It was one of Sutherland/Bonynge’s later Decca operatic collaborations (1985) and their only Handel opera they recorded together.
“[The recorded sound] is vivid, rather spacious … Dame Joan Sutherland produces generous quantities of golden tone … Nafé does [‘Dove sei’] very beautifully, gently yet with firm, well-formed tone. Her siciliano aria, where Bertarido despairs over his wife's supposed inconstancy, is particularly fine, as too is the intense accompanied recitative sung in a prison cell. Curtis Rayam shows a capable tenor in the role—one of the earliest important ones for a tenor—of the usurper Grimoaldo, with accurate singing in the rapid music and graceful phrasing in the attractive aria early in Act 2. His siciliano sleep song in Act 3 is affectingly done.” Gramophone Magazine
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Sonia Ganassi (Rodelinda), Franco Fagioli (Bertarido), Paolo Fanale (Grimoaldo), Gezim Myshketa (Garibaldo), Marina De Liso (Eduige), Antonio Giovannini (Unulfo), Continuo: Piero Barbareschi (harpsichord), Massimo Tannoia (cello) & Giuseppe Petrella (theorbo)
Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, Diego Fasolis
As with the majority of Handel’s stage works, Rodelinda is composed in a purely Italian style. The libretto was adapted by Nicola Haym from a previous version by Antonio Salvi. In line with the norms for Italian opera, it consists of solo da capo arias interspersed with secco recitatives and, occasionally, with accompanied ones.
The undoubted protagonist of the opera is Rodelinda, for whom the composer wrote eight of the original score’s thirty-two numbers, as well as the duet with Bertarido. Rodelinda’s characterisation is a masterpiece of psychological and musical insight, beginning with the entrance aria, Ho perduto il caro sposo. This is a doleful piece, rich in expressive chromaticism and almost completely devoid of coloratura passages, in which the Lombard queen appears prey to the deepest dejection.
No less brilliant and persuasive is the musical characterisation of the exiled king Bertarido, whose courage is, unusually, extolled more in recitatives than in arias. Bertarido is entrusted with the beautiful accompanied recitative in Act One, Pompe vane di morte, one the finest and most moving passages of the entire opera, which introduces the melancholy aria Dove sei, amato bene.
The other characters also make significant contributions to the interest and value of this production.
Sung in: Italian
Recording date & place: August 2010 – Martina Franca, Italy
Duration: 157 min.
Notes: English, Italian
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Live recording of the premiere at the Theater an der Wien, March 20, 2011
Set Design: Herbert Murauer
Lighting Design: Bernd Pukrabek
Choreography: Thom Stuart
"The plot concerns politics in early-Medieval Italy, but director Philipp Harnoncourt (Nikolaus’s son) has updated it to a present-day cityscape...The kings and dukes of the libretto map neatly onto the production’s sleazy modern underworld of gangsters and drug dealers. Rodelinda is a trophy mob wife, and her outcast husband hides among a group of homeless people.
Philipp Harnoncourt eschews the jokey post-modern antics of many Handel productions in favor of a realistic, deadly serious approach. The entire production takes place around a grim cement apartment block whose exact geographic location is never clear...Soprano and Baroque opera glamor queen Danielle De Niese was an appropriately beautiful and steadfast Rodelinda, helpless at the start and becoming braver as she learned to play the men’s game... The star of the show was countertenor Bejun Mehta as Bertarido, who gave a thrilling performance. Endowed with a rich sound and a considerable variety of vocal colors, he sang his character’s mournful music with plangent phrasing, excellent dramatic timing, and, when required, stunning virtuosity. While not as accomplished an actor as De Niese, he had presence and intensity onstage.
As usurper Grimoaldo, Kurt Streit created a a dim-witted yet somehow savvy heavy, finally afflicted with a crisis of conscience in his Act 3 “Fatto inferno,” a surprisingly powerful scene...Swedish mezzo Malena Ernman boomed with authority in the low-lying role of Eduige, singing spotless coloratura even through some exceptionally complicated stage business of taking off clothes, dealing with a cleaning woman, and, at one point, scorching Rodelinda’s wedding dress with a hot iron. Countertenor Matthias Rexroth has a paler tone than Mehta, but nonetheless was excellent as the double agent Unulfo, here one of the most respectable figures in the community. From the buzzy strings to throaty oboes, the sound has a rough vividness that a modern orchestra can’t match, and their technical polish is unimpeachable. In the Theater an der Wien’s small space, the 30-member orchestra sounded Wagnerian in volume, but never overpowered the singers. Vocal ornamentation in the da capo sections was tasteful and relatively restrained.
Despite some weaknesses in the staging, Baroque opera fans should not miss this production, and it should win a few new ones as well." Zerbinetta, Bachtrack, 23/3/2011
Sound Format: PCM 2.0, Picture Format: 16:9,
DVD1: 125', DVD2: 64'
Language: Italian, Subtitles: F, G, GB,
“If the title-role heroine remains an enigma - half-Penelope, half-Medea - and is more kitten than tigress in Danielle de Niese's palely sung interpretation, Harnoncourt Jnr has done much to add fibre to the supporting roles...The laurels go to countertenor Bejun Mehta's Bertarido, sympathetically acted and brilliantly sung.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2015 ***
“some very creditable performances on the musical side.” International Record Review, February 2015
“Mehta offers a star performance as Bertarido, his smooth, unflawed countertenor always perfectly in tune…de Niese’s Rodelinda supplies neat and effective vocalism, and she once again proves an accomplished actress…The playing of Concentus Musicus Wien is expert, with Harnoncourt senior finding a tempo that works for each aria and its singer while generally maintain a steady-as-she-goes approach.” Opera, April 2015
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Sung in German
Caecile Reich (Rodelinda), Emma Mayer (Eduige), Gerhard Hüsch (Bertarido), Fritz Krauß (Grimoaldo), Hans Ducrue (Garibaldo)
Reichssendersorchester Stuttgart, Chor des Südwestdeutschen Rundfunks, Carl Leonhardt
(First Ever Complete Recording)
“Of available recordings this set has the edge, for its greater dramatic urgency and richer characterisation.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2007
“Alan Curtis has done more than most to prove that many of Handel's 42 operas are first-rate music dramas – his Admeto, from 1979 (see page 465), was one of the first complete recordings of a Handel opera to feature period instruments and all voices at correct pitch without transpositions – but it is surprising to note that this is his first recording of an undisputed popular masterpiece.
Rodelinda, first performed in February 1725, is a stunning work dominated by a title-heroine who remains devoted to her supposedly dead husband Bertarido and scorns the advances of his usurper Grimoaldo. The potency of Handel's score was enhanced by the complexity of the villain, whose lust-driven cruelty gradually crumbles into a desire to abdicate in order to find spiritual peace. The scene in which the penitent tyrant's life is saved from assassination by the fugitive Bertarido is among Handel's greatest dramatic moments.
Simone Kermes is full of feisty courage, an assertive woman for whom Bertarido would credibly risk death to be reunited with. She takes no prisoners in some extravagant cadenzas, and sings 'Morrai, si' with thrillingly viscous venom.
At the other extreme, 'Ritorna o cara' is simply gorgeous. There are some weaknesses. Marijana Mijanovic's Bertarido often slips under pitch on long notes and uses indiscriminate vibrato instead of singing through phrases. Her deficiencies with tuning and idiomatic expression are highlighted in two duets with Kermes (one not recorded before), particularly when Handel demands that they sing sustained notes in unison.
There is a good case for using a fruity female contralto in castrato roles instead of an angelic countertenor but why Archiv seems keen to record Mijanovic's inadequate performances of Handel roles for his star castrato, Senesino is incomprehensible. A cursory comparison of Mijanovic's bizarrely unattractive 'Dove sei' with any of the impressive contributions from fellow contraltos Marie-Nicole Lemieux or Sonia Prina indicates that either would have better suited the role.
Otherwise, this has an abundance of good things. Il Complesso Barocco have sounded undernourished on some previous recordings but here play with admirable vitality and dramatic subtlety. Curtis has obviously worked hard to encourage his string players to understand what the singers are communicating: each aria is impeccably interpreted and intelligently paced. On the whole, Curtis's passion and experience ensure another typically persuasive and theatrical vindication of Handel's genius.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Kermes copes splendidly with the enormous range demanded and the feats of coloratura, if with a slight edge at the top...[Mijanovic and Lemieux are] both excellent, with Mijanovic singing nobly in the most celebrated number, Dove sei. Outstanding even in this cast is the Australian tenor, Steve Davislim” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***
BBC Music Magazine