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Subject: Rodelinda - Classical Unities / Intimate Humanity
From: Steve Charitan <[log in to unmask]>
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Date:Fri, 17 Dec 2004 19:44:31 EST
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Others have remarked on the virtues of the MET's new Rodelinda.  I'll
confine my comments to the singers, but note that Wadsworth's production
makes effective use of the 3 Classical Unities, giving further integrity to
the balance of Handel's musical architecture:

-Of Time:  The action takes place in one day, starting during the Sinfonia
with Rodelinda and her son waking up in the morning and ending at night
with all of the remaining principals joining hands for the final chorus set
in that magnificent candlelit library.

-Of Place:  The story unfolded within the confines of an Italianate villa
somewhere in Lombardy.  (All of the MET's stage magic was used subtly and
dramatically to shift the action from bedroom, to courtyard, to library, to
stable, to basement / prison...)

-Of Purpose:  Despite the surface complexities, all plot strands meet, and
lessons are learned by Rodelinda's steadfast love and loyalty to her
husband and child.


The Singers:

Renee Fleming:  While she does not possess a technique of Sutherlandian
brilliance, she does have a real trill which she uses to great effect
particularly in Rodelinda's lament, "Ombre, piante..."  In scenes requiring
rage and frustration, some of the fioratura could become awkward, as I felt
she herself would like to have been able to summon up more pure velocity
than she was capable of.  That being said, Fleming was the heart and soul of
the piece by virtue of that gorgeous timbre and her thought-through
commitment
to the character as mother and wife.  Her finest moment came in the second act
with "Ritorna, oh caro..." where her slightest variation or semi-quaver
uncovered
another aspect of this woman's loving nature.

David Daniels:  In those long breathed, melancholy arias like "Dove Sei" and
"Con rauco mormorio," he is incomparable, - the current custodian  of the
Bel Canto flame.  When he sang those pieces, along with his duet with Fleming
in the 2nd act, the audience seemed to agree with itself to take on that
hush where any sound  by anyone would cause the loss of something rare and
precious.  In a production like this where the emotional lives of these
people have been made so accessible and believable, it was also a decided
plus to have this male role played by a male.  Where a countertenor, even
one as fine as Daniels, cannot compete with a Horne-like mezzo is in
delivering the clanging bravura of "Vivi Tiranno," the role's capstone in
the final act.  He can handle all the fireworks with ease, but in falsetto,
they
lacked the thrust and brilliance to compete with Handel's aggressive
orchestral writing at this point.   I saw his Rinaldo at City Opera and
felt this same thing when it came time  to tackle  "Or la Tromba."  This
aria might actually have more presence on the broadcast than it did in the
house.

Stephanie Blythe:  Hers is the plushest of voices and it revels in the size
of the MET, seemingly capable of filling every corner of the house.  Her
Italian diction was also a joy to listen to and she sang the language like
a native.  While the florid work can be hit or miss, she can get  through
if speed is not required.  Blythe looked spectacular in her black gown -
someone who carries herself with complete confidence in her own majestic
size - like a Rubens queen or goddess come to life.  What a shame they cut
some of her part, particularly one of the da capos.  If you buy into
Handel's "architecture," which this performance for the most part did, it
is disfiguring to tamper with the  "ABA" structure when the ear comes to
expect the form.  Why do we accommodate length relative to Wagner, but
violate it with Handel?

Bejun Metha:  His voice has a darker color than Daniel's - a Merlot-like
richness.  Playing the loyal friend to the Daniels' Bertarido, their sounds
were nicely contrasted.  Having two countertenors with such clearly
different palates, made each of them seem somehow less exotic - a positive
in such a naturalistic production.  I heard the performance on Saturday,
Dec. 11, and the one Wednesday, Dec. 15.  Having been so impressed with
Metha on Saturday, I could sense he was not on form Wednesday, when he was
replaced by Theodora Hanslowe after Act 1.  Metha is an extraordinary artist
worth
hearing at his best.

Kobie van Rensburg:  This tenor's sound is lean and maybe even a little
light for what is the most complex character of the opera.  Grimoaldo is
the only one who actually undergoes a psychological and moral change by the
time the drama ends.  van Rensburg  threw himself into the role with a
vengeance,
spewing out ribbons of focused, lightning swift coloratura, but also
turning in a beautiful pastorale when the character has a change of heart
in Act 3.  The somewhat steely timbre made him less of an audience favorite
than his intense performance merited.

John Relyea:  A dashing, handsome devil of a  villain, rolling out his runs
with Ramey-like precision.  Relyea had the most physical "business" - all
done to great effect- he gets slapped by Fleming, angrily throws a deck of
cards at a wall, sings recitative while mounting, then riding a horse,
engages in sword play with David Daniels, and rare in a Handel opera, gets
to die on stage.

This is a production of great intimacy and humanity believed in by all who
participate in
it - audience and artists alike.

Steve Charitan
Hudson, OH



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