In the opera Rodelinda, focusing on Flavio is like telling the Treasure Island adventures of pirate Long John Silver from the perspective of the parrot on his shoulder. – Rodelinda by the Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam.
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Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi is an opera seria in three acts, composed by Georg Friedrich Handel. The libretto is by Nicola Francesco Haym, based on an earlier libretto by Antonio Salvi.
The National Opera, Amsterdam. January 14, 2020, premiere.
Rodelinda: Lucy Crowe
Bertarido: Bejun Mehta
Grimoaldo: Bernard Richter
Eduige: Katarina Bradić
Unulfo: Lawrence Zazzo
Garibaldo: Luca Tittoto
Flavio: Fabián Augusto Gómez
Conductor: Riccardo Minasi
Staging: Claus Guth
Händel’s Rodelinda in the production of Claus Guth – or rather Guth’s Rodelinda with music by Handel – premiered in Madrid in 2017, and three years later, after wandering around Lyon, Barcelona and Frankfurt, it ended up in Amsterdam. The director set the mould for his “vision” on the libretto, and from this emerged the fantasy of examining the difficult childhood of Rodelinda’s son Flavio as the central theme. This was undoubtedly intended to create “psychological stratification”, to which Händel, if asked for his opinion on the despicable psychological component crammed into his opera, would have replied “Frankly, dear, I don’t give a damn”.
Rodelinda is an opera (that means singing, folks!), but Flavio is one of the roles that has no note to sing. No note as in “zero notes”. Focusing on Flavio (of course continuously present on stage) is just like telling the Treasure Island adventures of pirate Long John Silver “from the perspective” of the parrot on his shoulder. With the exception that the parrot will at least produce sound. With Claus Guth as director, that inevitably means: a rotating stage. Check! This time, the famous Guth carousel offered a welcome diversion to help the audience endure three and a half hours of baroque opera. Nothing to the detriment of Händel, who wrote the most beautiful music, but 3.5 hours is very long. During the performance we occasionally dreamed away in blissful visions of a concertante Rodelinda of one hour. A few key words to roughly outline what was presented: Modern costumes? Check. Video? Check.
What the opera is really about isn’t worth recounting. The Dutch National Opera published a handy organogram from which even the inexperienced opera lover can easily distil the story full of blackmail and intrigue.
Just one last masterpiece of Guth’s keen psychological insight. Please join us for a moment and make sure you keep your notebook with the title “The Greatest Opera Clichés” close at hand. According to Claus Guth, Rodelinda is “a rollercoaster of feelings.” Your mouth sags open with amazement…
Minor detail: the composer
Instead, let’s dedicate a few words to the craftsman whose music was chosen to accompany Guth’s merry-go-round musically: Georg Friedrich Händel, the cosmopolitan German composer who wrote Italian operas in London. In the early 18th century he achieved great international successes, and when people got tired of his operas, he effortlessly continued his series of successes with orchestral works and oratorios. After his death it was over, primarily with himself of course, but also with the popularity of his music. The Händel compositions found in the living rooms of hardworking Dutchmen, often the Crown Choice of a record club, were mainly limited to Music for the Royal Fireworks, the Water Music, the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (HWV 67), the Largo from Xerxes, and the Hallelujah from the Messiah. E tutti quanti… But for several decades now, Händel’s operas have been back in fashion. Unfortunately, they all take too long (one gets thirsty) and are seldom performed in their historical context in accordance with the libretto. “A kingdom for comprehensive cuts and concertante performances!” we sigh on behalf of the many sincere opera lovers from whom the Dutch National Opera has so successfully alienated itself in the last 40 years.
The Queen of Lombardy
Rodelinda was first performed at the King’s Theatre in London on 13 February 1725. This Rodelinda is the Queen of Lombardy, who acquired fame in the Netherlands with a Dutch opera of the same name from the 1950s. See video:
In the performance we visited, Queen Rodelinda was performed by soprano Lucy Crowe, who also sang this role at the premiere in Madrid in 2017. Fine singer, a little shrill in her top notes. Countertenor Bejun Mehta (also present in 2017) was an excellent Bertarido. Mehta, with his amazing technique combined with compelling expression, was the star of the show for us. Bernard Richter sang expressively as Grimoaldo, with certain, radiant top notes that were only occasionally slightly forced. The mezzo Katarina Bradić (Eduige) ignited a beautiful coloratura firework, while Lawrence Zazzo (a fantastic Unulfo) and Luca Tittoto (Garibaldo) generously cooperated with the generally excellent quality of the soloists.
The Colombian actor Fabián Augusto Gómez was also present in Barcelona in the role of Flavio. He appeared to have remembered his text flawlessly. Singing was not for him – Händel’s fault ! – but as an actor he got, thanks to Claus Guth’s Vision, the chance to act an exemplary traumatized royal child. Not a note sung, but an ovational applause from the Amsterdam, our-kind-of-people premiere audience.
The musical direction was in the hands of baroque specialist Riccardo Minasi, who conducted the equally baroque-specialistic, excellent Concerto Köln enthusiastically and snappy.
Fantastic, sparkling music, but after a few hours of baroque you start to long for Greensleeves by Mantovani’s orchestra.