I think maybe Handel’s Rodelinda is one for the hard-core Handelians. It’s got some lovely music but it’s long (200 minutes), not very dramatic (it’s based on Corneille) and, structurally, is a succession of recitative and da capo arias. There is no chorus and I only recall two numbers that weren’t solos; the concluding quintet and a rather lovely duo between Rodelinda and Bertarido at the end of Act 2. Jean-Marie Villégier’s 1998 production for Glyndebourne rather tends to emphasise the leaning to elegance rather than drama. The basic look and feel is “silent movie era”. Sets and costumes are near monochrome and tend to be emphasised by the lighting. At least when there is a any. Much of this production is very dark, as was fashionable at the time. The direction of the singers is consistent with the silent movie theme. There is much moustache twirling from Umberto Chiummo’s Garibaldo and one feels that Louise Winter could have used one to twirl as Eduige. All in all the concept works well and allows some neat details that you can have the pleasure of finding for yourself. There are also some busy supers in Germanic army uniforms who do a lot of threatening with guns. They may be doing other stuff too but the lighting and video direction don’t make it easy to see what.
Musical direction is by William Christie who has the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit. Christie is a master of this sort of repertoire and he gets really idiomatic playing and singing out of his forces with the balance again being towards elegance rather than drama or passion or grandeur. This is reinforced both by pretty relaxed tempi and by the casting choices. The castrato parts of Bertarido and Unulfo are both taken by counter tenors of the type favoured at the start of the early music revival; all head voice. Bertarido is sung by Andreas Scholl who is as good a singer of that type as you can get and he sings with great taste and beauty and acts well too but part of me yearns for the fuller tone of a David Daniels or a Michael Maniaci. Artur Stefanowicz is a slightly camp Unulfo. The title role is played by Anna Caterina Antonacci and she’s terrific. She manages to convey a real range of emotion while remaining entirely, canonically, stylish with beauty of voice all through her range and produces some gorgeous pianissimos. She looks really good too and has some very sparkly costumes. The duet between Scholl and Antonacci at the end of Act 2 is absolutely gorgeous and they sing well together. It’s a shame there isn’t more opportunity for them to do so. Initially I thought Louise Winter was a bit fruity but she improved on me. It seems to be a role that is given to a dramatic type mezzo as Stephanie Blythe has been singing it so maybe that’s the intent. I do think she’s maybe the weak link in the cast but not enough to spoil anything. Kurt Streit sings Grimoaldo and he’s as polished as you would expect a Mozartian tenor of his reputation to be. He seemed to make more dramatic impact in the early scenes than later on but that might just be a question of getting put in the shade a bit by Scholl. Umberto Chiummo’s Garibaldo is very good. There’s more than a bit of Dick Dastardly about the acting and the singing has a touch of basso buffo about it but that’s fine. It’s very consistent with the piece. He also manages to sing with a cigarette in his mouth which I think is rather impressive.
The DVD itself is a very basic production of its time. The production was broadcast on Channel 4 and Humphrey Burton has clearly directed for the “small screen”. At times there is a lot more going on than we see in this picture. The TV show has then been dumped pretty much straight to DVD though at least without the usual “I’m at Glyndebourne and you’re not” interval features. The picture is decent quality 4:3 and the Dolby 2.0 sound is nicely balanced. There are lots of subtitle options but no extras and no documentation beyond a chapter listing.
Here’s Scholl and Antonacci’s duet: