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Subject: Rodelinda, GTO, Oxford 31Oct98
From: "H.E.Elsom" <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 1 Nov 1998 02:55:02 +0000

text/plain (88 lines)

Eduige            Sarah Connolly
Rodelinda         Lisa Milne
Garibaldo         Jonathan Best
Bertarido         David Cordier
Grimoaldo         Paul Nilon
Unulfo            Lawrence Zazzo

Conductor         Harry Bicket
Director          Jean-Marie Villegier
Revival director  Christopher Cowell

The Glyndebourne Touring production of Rodelinda is the silent-movie one
from this year's festival, with a different cast and a few minor changes. I
saw only the broadcast of the festival version, so I can't compare the two
directly. But the main idea, that the characters types and situations of
the opera make sense as Stroheim costume drama, seems to work even better
this time round. And this cast in general suits the music far better than
the festival cast.

In particular, Sarah Connolly and Lisa Milne are both old Handel hands and
carried off their roles in style where Anna Caterina Antonacci just didn't
work vocally as Rodelinda, and Louise Winter didn't work at all as Eduige.
Connolly, tough looking in a platinum blonde wig, made sense as the
hard-bitten bad girl who comes through in the end, maybe even Jean Harlow,
and sang Eduige's music forcefully. Milne is comfortably upholstered
(Connolly and she together looked like Tenniel's Red and White Queens, with
reversed hair colours), but was vocally glamorous in the appropriate
musical style.

Paul Nilon as Grimoaldo sang beautifully, emphasising his misery rather
than his cruelty. Nilon was as mean a Nero as you could want in the WNO
Poppea, but this production went with a wet Grimoaldo who was never really
going to kill the young Flavio. In a way his Grimoaldo was a mirror of
Rodelinda, an emotional person forced into extreme behaviour by
circumstances. Rodelinda was pointing a gun at him at one moment, but
clearly wasn't mean enough to shoot.

If you usurp a kingdom it's your own fault, of course, though I think it's
implicit in this production that Garibaldo is responsible for all of the
nastiness in Grimoaldo's regime. Jonathan Best's Garibaldo was a curl of
the lip short of a complete impersonation of Conrad Veidt. This paid off in
the relationship between Garibaldo and Eduige, something like that between
Veidt and Joan Crawford in A woman's face.  Best's singing was thuggish
rather than insinuating, appropriately for his music. His aria on how to be
a really nasty tyrant was particularly effective.

Lawrence Zazzo has a fraction of the voice of Artur Stefanowicz, but his
singing is in much better shape, and he handled the comic aspects of Unolfo
with a light touch. He's got a pleasant stage presence, and the audience
applauded all three of his not very interesting arias.

David Cordier was an interesting surprise. I hadn't heard him live for
almost twenty years, and remember him has having a pleasant little voice.
But his singing tonight was substantial, with a middle weight voice that
was slightly unfocussed at times but often very beautiful and expressive
(notably in the duet with Rodelinda at the end of act 2 where they describe
the torture of meeting again only for him to face death). Cordier doesn't
have the ease or presence of Andreas Scholl, but he made a reasonably
effective, if slightly nervous, Byronic hero manque. John Gilbert, maybe.

The production seems to have come together this time round. The singers
were all at ease with the mannered acting style, and somehow fit the types
much better. (Though Paul Nilon just doesn't have the cheekbones that Kurt
Streit has.) I think some arias were cut to A sections only, which helped
reduce some of the business required. The shtick with the armed tea trolley
was still there -- Connolly managed to extract weapons from under the cloth
as a background activity to her aria. But Garibaldo didn't come back from
the dead to serve drinks at the end.

Harry Bicket and the Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra played briskly but
idiomatically. The performance was somehow missing a sense of drama and
forward drive, but I think that's the nature of Handel opera at times --
the scenes stand alone as expressions of an emotion or problem, and there's
no great build-up to an explosive conclusion. The monochrome set might also
have contributed to the understated atmosphere, as did the watery
"sunlight" at the end. But everything held together and made narrative and
musical sense.

No wonder Flavio turned out screwy.



H.E. Elsom
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