September 25, 2005
The production of Händel's Rodelinda currently at San Francisco Opera is one from the Bayerische Staatsoper, and I had attended a few performances of it in Munich a few years ago. It is one of the tamer offerings of this particular director, David Alden. The opera is set as 1930s film noir, Buki Shiff's costumes are rather pretty because of this, especially Rodelinda's dashing black evening gown in Act II. The set consisted of various brick walls that were strategically moved about, there was also a recurring black and white image of a man with his arms crossed in front of him. He appears in eight cut-out figures in Act I, the largest being around 16 feet tall, and the smallest about 7 feet. Later he shows up in Act III, but only as a half-length, and only seven pictures this time.
I objected to just how buffoonish they had Unulfo be, when his character is rather noble, he is loyal to Bertarido and is willing to die for him. Instead they have Garibaldo beat him up and stuff wadded up paper down his throat. It was annoying when Garibaldo sings an aria in Act II, Unulfo screams in pain during the music. Then in Act III when Bertarido mistakenly attacks Unulfo with a kitchen knife, the latter runs into a wall, making his wound all the worse. Of course the knife is simply placed under the arm, and this is made extremely obvious.
Another flaw in the staging occurred at the end of Act II, during the very end of the gorgeous duet between Rodelinda and Bertarido, "Lo t'abbraccio." Catherine Naglestad and David Daniels sang brilliantly, but the staging involved putting Bertarido in the trunk of the vintage black Mercedes on stage. This elicited titters from the audience, which is completely inappropriate considering both how moving and ravishing the music is at that point.
The choreography was perhaps too difficult for the singers, I remember choreographer Beate Vollack being quite a favorite in Die Fledermaus in Munich. The choreography, minus drunken staggering, could have worked with just the right cast. It was a stark contrast to the excellent movement in L'Italiana last weekend.
As for singing, Naglestad sounded unsure at the beginning, slightly shrill, her voice cracked a bit during her second aria. She doesn't make it seem effortless. But there were some beautiful moments later in the opera. Daniels had a good performance, his voice is powerful and resonant, no trace of grit today. When he occasionally moved into his chest voice one gets a sense of how much heft his voice has, it is incredible. Tenor Paul Nilon was rather colorless as Grimoaldo, his dancing also did not betray much verve. Mezzo-soprano Phyllis Pancella did not impress either, and her dancing was flat-out bad, her back looks incredibly stiff and she has slumped shoulders. Gerald Thompson showed promise as Unulfo, at least in his voice, his countertenor has a sweet tone.