Friday 3 February 2006

Opera Review - Rodelinda

I imagine Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco’s performance of Handel’s Rodelinda at the Barbican on Wednesday was planned partly as a celebration/promotion of their new recording of the opera, though as it turns out 3 of the planned cast did not sing. So instead of Simone Kermes (a Curtis regular) we had Emma Bell and Grimoaldo was played by Filippo Adamo, a very last minute replacement – his name wasn’t even in the printed programme.

Curtis is another American harpsichordist who works extensively in Europe. Whereas with William Christie I always get the feeling that even in Handel, the notes inegals of the French Baroque are never far away, Curtis’s Handel has a more traditional feel to it; wonderfully crisp, rhythmic and sprightly, even if there was the odd hint of untidiness in the orchestra.

The advantage of the cast we actually heard was that 4 of the 6 singers were native Italian speakers. (Sonia Prina as Bertarido, Filippo Adami as Grimoaldo, Romina Basso as Eduige and Vito Priante as Garibaldo) This had two effects, firstly the recitatives were particularly vivid and cantered along in a very lively manner without ever seeming gabbled. They also felt as if they really meant something, you could almost follow the opera without ever looking at the surtitles. The second advantage was in the sheer vividness of the performances. There was no hint of Northern coolness which can often beset concert performances. All the singers, including the 2 English ones (Hilary Summers as Unolfo and Emma Bell as Rodelinda), emoted in a very dramatic fashion and reacted to each other. Though a concert performance, with the singers using scores, this was no static spectacle, all projected the drama in a very credible fashion. You hardly missed a stage presentation, especially one like Glyndebourne’s which often seems to get in the way of the drama.

Emma Bell was superb in the title role; her voice has developed more richness and depth but she has preserved her virtuosity in Handel’s fioriture and she used the music in a superbly expressive way. Rodelinda is a role which has accompanied Bell since her sensational debut at Glyndebourne whilst still at college. You sometimes wonder whether she might be getting bored with it, but on this showing she certainly isn’t. Being so close to the singers we were able to appreciate that she has a very nice line in sneering.

But Bell is quite a known quantity; as her husband Sonia Prina was a revelation. A lively and dramatic singer, it was almost as if she couldn’t keep still whilst singing. I am used to the slightly cool interpretation of Bertarido in Glyndebourne’s production, developed with the counter-tenor Andreas Scholl in mind; Prina’s Bertarido was a complete contrast, her delivery more lively and vivid, she projected Bertarido’s emotions on a larger scale, this was a man who lived on the edge of his nerves. She and Bell developed a credible and touching relationship.

As Bertarido’s sister Eduige, Romina Basso was no less vivid and she managed to make the character’s twists and turns believable; her was a passionate woman who acted before she thought. Though both Prina and Basso have strong, rich mezzo/alto voices, they were remarkably differentiated. One of the nice things about the casting (with 3 low female voices) was the way that each woman had a rich voice but all 3 voices were strikingly different. The third of the trio was Hilary Summers as Unolfo. Unolfo’s arias can often seem superfluous to the drama, but in Summer’s hands they were as gripping as the rest of the opera.

With such a strong female cast, the 2 men had their work cut out. Vito Priante in the role of the evil Garibaldo, managed to combine the necessary Handelian virtuosity with a nice line in sneering and sheer evil. No mean feat indeed. As his weak cohort Grimoaldo, Filippo Adami created a believably weak character and projected the drama well. I will not comment on his musical performance as he was such a last minute replacement. He is a very young tenor (born 1980) so I suspect he will not be singing Handel for long as his voice develops.

The performance included a final duet for Rodelinda and Bertarido which has been less often done. Curtis’s direction was perhaps a little stiff at times, but the performances were so entrancing that it hardly mattered.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:00 am

    Hello Robert,

    thanks for your review, it was a pleasure to read! What about the orchestra though? No comment on them?



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