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02 May, 2006

Rodelinda Gala

The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

Friday May 2 2006

RodelindaRenée Fleming
GrimoaldoKobie van Rensburg
GaribaldiJohn Relyea
EduigeStephanie Blythe
BertaridoAndreas Scholl
UnulfoChristophe Dumaux
FlavioZachary Vail Elkind
ConductorPatrick Summers
ProductionStephen Wadsworth
SetsThomas Lynch

Dear Colleagues,

The Met Rodelinda is worth the price, if just for the beautiful sets. And remarkably, there were tickets available at most price ranges on the night. The first scene sees Queen Rodelinda and her young son locked up in their magnificent palace bedroom. Next, released from her chains, the entire stage rolls to the left, revealing the palace garden. It contains the family cenotaphs including one for her recently departed and presumed dead husband, Bertarido (played by Andreas Scholl, counter-tenor). The stage rolls on even further and we see a full sized stables, resident horse included. After a scene back in the garden, we find ourselves in the most magnificent library with six segmented galleries, mezzanine, skylights and panelled and serried shelves. A spiral staircase rises on the right with desk and chairs on the left. Yet another scene takes us to the bowels of the palace, secret corridor and all. It is here where the least likely part of this unlikely plot takes place as the imprisoned king accidentally stabs his friend with a weapon provided by his allies. Despite the injuries, both flee using the secret entrance.

I was surprised that Renée Fleming was paired with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe who has a magnificent, velvet and very large voice. The opera does not contain duets or concerted singing in which such talents can combine such as Sutherland and Horne used to. Yet both women did shine individually, with a final magnificent tour de force 'resolution' aria by Fleming including a scale up to a stratospheric height. Sadly several of the patrons sitting near me had gone home by then.

I am never a fan of males singing in the soprano register (unless it is David Daniels) but I know I am in the minority. Scholl was extremely well received while the other men also sang creditably, especially John Relyea. The orchestra was in fine form under Maestro Summers who played harpsichord while at the podium. At times he seemed to have his left hand still on the keyboard(s) while raising the baton with his right to direct the orchestra.

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alt="Seated Female c.6000BC Mesopotamia or Syria" />
Seated Female c.6000BC
Mesopotamia or Syria

The story is as unlikely as any opera plot. Bernheimer in his review apparently called usurper Grimoaldo the "nemesis on the premises". I don't know why the program gives the title "Regina de' Longobardi" for Milan's queen. Also, I have never seen so much surgery on stage! It was like a trauma ward. There was a bound hand wound and an apparent laparotomy. At least in Forza the battlefield surgery happens off-stage.

Like Partenope, the opera may seem long and difficult to some. I would not mind if it remained a museum piece, resurrected occasionally by specialist institutions. However, 'rescue' for such a work is at hand by using a clever production along with exemplary singing as in this case. Handel experts may disagree, but to my ear, the opera lacks an immortal show-stopper. Rinado has 'Lascia, io piango', Alcina: 'Tornami a vagghagia' (Alcina); Semele with three such (Oh sleep; Iris hence; Where e're); Caesar has its arias and violin exhibition; Xerxes its 'Largo'. That said, Rodelinda has a plethora of delightful and varied music from all singers and orchestra and is more than a mere museum piece. There are many repeated refrains which could be cut back, making the long evening slightly shorter. I only recall one real duet in the whole piece, but it is worth the wait.

Curtain calls saw the crowds go wild - and honour was satisfied in every respect - but I will not be back in a hurry. While it is a privilege to see an old work done so well - like the Mesopotamian wing at the Metropolitan Museum - essential historically - but I don't want to revisit all that often.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..