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Handel Rodelinda

Il Complesso Barocco / Alan Curtis - conductor

The Barbican Hall - 1 February 2006


Rodelinda – Emma Bell

Bertarido – Sonia Prina

Grimoaldo –Filippo Adami

Eduige - Romina Basso

Unolfo – Hilary Summers

Garibaldo – Vito Priante


Rodelinda is deservedly one of Handel's most popular operas, and has succeeded where others have sunk into relative obscurity; not because the music is so much better (although it has a very fine score), but because the plot and characters are believable. None of them have supernatural or magical powers, none have been bewitched or mysteriously lost their senses, none disguised so completely that even their nearest and dearest cannot recognise them – this is a real life power struggle between rival dukedoms in 7 th century Lombardy and the story of a loyal and astute wife who is determined to remain true to her husband and defend his cause against usurpers.


Grimoaldo has seized the throne of Milan sending the rightful king, Bertarido into exile and believed death, and seeks to consolidate his position by marriage to the queen Rodelinda. He immediately finds himself under verbal attack from Rodelinda, righteously indignant at his attempts to take over Bertarido's wife as well as his dukedom, Eduige whom his is jilting in the process (and who just happens to be Bertarido's sister) and Garibaldi, Duke of Turin, the real villain of the piece and an Iago like character, who urges Grimoaldo to ever more tyrannical and violent action.


Bertarido returns and meets Rodelinda secretly, but the couple's joy at being re-united is immediately quashed when they are discovered and they prepare to be parted for ever. But Grimoaldo hasn't the stomach for further bloodshed, he reno unces his claim to Milan , makes his peace with Eduige, the wicked Garibaldo is executed tidily off stage and there is a happy ending.


Although this was only a concert performance Handel's score is wonderfully descriptive of personalities, mood and situations and the fine cast, led by Emma Bell (Rodelinda) and Sonia Prina (Bertarido) were fully in character throughout the proceedings, their faces and body language mirroring the twisting emotion of the plot. Their singing was equally spectacular – vibrant top notes and their Act II parting duet deeply moving.


Other members of the cast were equally impressive: Romina Basso as a fiery Eduige, Hilary Summers demonstrating fine agility of voice as the knight Unolfo (and fully justifying the decision to choose a contralto for this part rather than a countertenor), and Vito Priante as a darkly venomous Garibaldo. Owing to the illness of Kobie van Rensburg, Filippo Adami, a 25 year old from Fiesoli, had taken on the significant role of Grimoaldo at very short notice, and whilst he may not have had the role as comfortably sung in as he would have liked, his was an impressive performance.


Alan Curtis lived up to his reputation for spotting young singers on their way up, and alternating smoothly between rostrum and keyboard he held his equally young period instrument orchestra in firm control. The woodwind playing was outstanding, especially in the several passages where the soloist echoes to vocal line.


As is so often the case these days the concert had a CD link as Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco recorded the opera in 2004 (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 00289 477 5391). The soloists are mainly different but, with the possible exception of Marijana Mijanovic who disappoints slightly as Bertarido, it is an excellent piece of work.


An interesting feature of both the concert programme and CD booklet is a commentary on the Rodelinda story by novelist Donna Leon , best known for her excellent Commissario Brunetti series. The first book in the sequence is of course Death at La Fe nice and each is prefaced by a quotation from a Mozart opera. The gap between opera plots and crime fiction may perhaps be a narrow one – there are certainly often as many violent deaths in each.


© Serena Fenwick