Rodelinda by George Frederick Handel
Cambridge, Great Hall, The Leys
Cambridge Handel Opera Company puts on Baroque operas that celebrate the fusion of music and the stage with performances that are not just ‘historically informed’, but ‘historically inspired’. There is meaningful integrity between what happens in the music and what happens on stage. Baroque stagecraft is incorporated into our productions in a manner that speaks directly to audiences. Cambridge Handel Opera Company staged Handel’s Rodelinda, HWV 19 in Cambridge at a new theatre, the ‘Great Hall’, at The Leys. The dress rehearsal and performances took place in the week of 3 – 7 April 2018.
Rodelinda – Review by Janet Banks
Hats off to talented artistic director Julian Perkins for resurrecting the Cambridge Handel Opera Company, which had staged annual Handel productions from 1985 to 2013 in the historic university city. He plans to alternate operas by Handel with those of his contemporaries, and if this production of Rodelinda is anything to go by, audiences can look forward to historically informed and artistically rewarding productions in the coming years.
Simon Bejer has designed the production simply but effectively, entirely in blood red, black and white. Costumes are loosely early 17th-century – ruffs, doublet and hose, the staging minimal, but hung with red draperies. Sung in English, it is expertly accompanied from the pit by period instruments laid out as an 18th-century opera orchestra, with a harpsichord and bass instrument on each side of the pit, and conducted by Julian Perkins.
Alice Privett never disappoints as the faithful wife Rodelinda. Her opening lament for her, supposedly, dead husband Bertarido, is impressive in its rich, deep colours, and she excels both in the passionate anger required when resisting the advances of the usurper Grimoaldo and in the more calm set-piece arias.
Her unwelcome suitor, Grimoaldo (tenor William Wallace), white-faced and weak minded, comes into his own in Act 2 when his anger at finding Rodelinda and Bertarido together brings forth vehement coloratura – the only time spontaneous applause was drawn from an otherwise rather reserved audience. His adviser Garibaldo is sung by baritone Nicholas Morris, who from the first has the ability to hold the stage with both his effective acting and his characterful voice. Ida Ränzlöv who sings ‘bad girl’ Eduige, dressed for the part in black vinyl skin-tight trousers and a slashed farthingale, enters into the role with almost comic effect, rolling the “R” of Rodelinda scornfully and cheekily unlacing Unolfo’s doublet.
It is left till Act 1 Scene 2 before we hear a counter-tenor voice – that of Bertarido, in hiding, walking among the tombs. Although initially his voice is not striking, William Towers soon captivates the audience with his beautifully controlled long notes, and his Act 2 aria ‘Nature’s voice replying’, each line echoed from the circle by recorders and flute, is beautifully accomplished. Tom Scott-Cowell, as Unolfo, has the other countertenor role and delights the audience with Act 2 aria ‘Daylight is dawning’ just before the interval.
For me, however, the musical high point of the opera was Rodelinda and Bertarido’s duet at the end of Act 2 ‘I embrace you’, movingly sung in their separate dungeons, with flawless ensemble and both voices blending seamlessly.