Handel: Rodelinda

Danielle di Niese Rodelinda, Bejun Mehta Bertarido, Kurt Streit Grimoaldo, Konstantin Wolff Garibaldo, Malena Ernman Eduige, Matthias Rexroth Unulfo, Luis Neuhold Flavio, Angelo Margiol Flavio’s friend, Concentus Musicus Wien, Nicolaus Harnoncourt
189′ (2 DVDs)
Belvedere 10144

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his DVD is hardly worth listening to, let alone seeing. The speeds are dull – to take for example the overture (where was the minuet?), the largo was andante-larghetto; the allegro was andante. The tempi continue in such fashion (‘mean’ Handel – where fast is too slow and slow too fast). The cast is pretty decent, although indiscriminate vibrato taints them all. And while Bejun Mehta is not bad as Bertarido, Matthias Rexroth (Unulfo) makes a good case for using a contralto or mezzo. (Amazingly, women can play men.) As the heroine, de Niese has good facial expressions and can act (makes up for an indifferent voice), but Rodelinda is misconceived: no dignity or that aura of untouchability that means a) Grimoaldo is helpless about her in more sense than just love, and b) that she keeps her reputation and poise throughout. For example, her ‘L’empio rigor’ (far too pedestrian, by the way – and that’s before de Niese lags behind the beat) starts with Grimoaldo actually touching her and towering over her; she seems indecisive and at a loss what to do. The music is so at odds with this that the whole thing’s a nonsense. It’s a shame, for Grimoaldo’s entrance is suitably bumbling. And there’s some bizarre wardrobe-moving – but what else do you do in the da capo? (And, of course, Rodelinda, being a woman, is only interested in clothes anyway.) The recitatives are awful – very sung; all notes almost the same length (interminable). There are occasional good moments (e. g. the first encounter between Grimoaldo and Eduige, and Bertarido’s ‘Dove sei’), but the bad moments are too cringe worthy – e. g. the sex scene between Eduige and Garibaldo (never mind that Eduige is supposed to have left the stage… And how do you bonk with your trousers on/tights up?) We’ve only got a third of the way through Act I. It doesn’t improve. Avoid!

Katie Hawks



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Il Pianto d’Orfeo or the Birth of Opera

Nicholas Achten baritone, Deborah York soprano, Lambert Colson cornetto, Scherzi Musicali
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88843078722

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his intriguing CD takes the Orpheus legend as a springboard to explore the world of early opera. To a surprising extent the legend dominated the early years of opera, providing in its story a powerful message about the power of music, but also a hero who conveniently performs monophonically to his own instrumental accompaniment. What Nicholas Achten has done here is stitched together a fantasy opera in which numbers from a range of these early settings are placed in sequence to retell the story. At first I determined to listen to the sequence ‘blind’ to see whether the music by Monteverdi stood out from his contemporaries as many commentators suggest that it ought to. Of course this proved impossible to judge as I already knew the Monteverdi well, but to my mind much of the ‘supporting’ music by Rossi, Merula, Caccini, Cavalieri, Piccinini, Falconieri, Landi, Sartorio and of course Peri seemed highly effective and, in the hands of Scherzi Musicali, powerfully expressive.

The role of Orfeo is taken by the Nicholas Achten, whose light baritone voice seems constantly on the verge of ornamentation and is perfectly suited to the music – his account of the Monteverdi’s superlative aria Possente spirto is one of the finest I have heard. His Euridice, who in keeping with the earliest settings plays a much smaller role in the drama, is Deborah York whose soprano voice is also convincingly expressive. The accompanying consort of strings plus two cornetts and a range of continuo keyboards including harpsichord, organ and virginals occasionally joined by theorbo, guitar, harp and bass cittern provides highly charged textures to support the singers as well as performing purely instrumental items with considerable delicacy and passion. This CD is a true pleasure to listen to, and provides the very useful service of bringing several early operatic composers out of the textbooks and into the limelight, if perhaps in the context of a co-operative effort which few of them would have countenanced in life.

D. James Ross

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