Rodelinda at the Met

Met-rodelinda-2011* Notes *
A revival of Rodelinda (Act II pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) is currently underway at the Metropolitan Opera. Since I saw this opera in 2006, I opted to hear this at a score desk on Wednesday. The acoustics are quite flattering to voices at Score Desk 3, and everyone could be easily heard. The orchestra sounded neat and tidy under Harry Bicket, everything seemed in place and rather angular. The chorus was appealing in the last act and sang with clarity

The singing was fairly lackluster. Joseph Kaiser (Grimoaldo) sang with much vibrato. Shenyang's Garibaldo had richness but was imprecise. Iestyn Davies showed promise as Unulfo, his voice is bright and pretty. Andreas Scholl (Bertarido) was slightly quiet, but also has a sweet, beautiful voice. There was "a small technical difficulty" with the set before Scholl's "Vivi tiranno," which unfortunately interrupted the flow of the music.

As Eduige, Stephanie Blythe gave a strong, steely performance. Renée Fleming seemed more committed to this title role than her recent turn as Lucrezia Borgia in San Francisco. Though her vocal line had a fine legato, her intonation is lacking and her coloratura is not impressive. Fleming did not follow any of the da capo or dal segno markings in Act I.

* Tattling *
Besides the aforementioned mishap in the last scene, there seemed to be other struggles with the set. The first intermission ran even longer than the allotted 40 minutes, as putting together that elaborate Baroque library in Act II must present a significant challenge. The cues to the lighting booth were loud, and as the music is not, they were all too audible.

Regina de' Longobardi

RodalindaactiiWadsworth production of Händel's Rodelinda opened at the Met on Tuesday, May 2, 2006. I was surprised that Thomas Lynch's set was so beautiful, since his Lohengrin was reminiscent of IKEA, though admittedly, his Ring set for Seattle was gorgeous. The library set was particularly impressive to the audience, which gasped when it was revealed in Act II. Act II also featured a horse, this device being a perennial favorite. The scenes changed flawlessly, the set moved both left and right and up and down. It was a bit much though, one did feel that things were always in motion, if not in the set itself, then in the choreography. The singers frenetically dashed around, seemingly without purpose. It was as if they believed the music was just so boring that it was necessary to fidget and fumble all over the stage as a method of distraction.

As for the singing, the lead, Renée Fleming, was somewhat flat, her voice is thin and she seems distant even though her volume is fine. Her voice has not a trace of sensuality, though I am not convinced that is necessary for Baroque music. Mezzo-Soprano Stephanie Blythe (Eduige) had more emotion in her voice, though she can be harsh. Tenor Kobie van Rensburg (Grimoaldo) also had passion, though his arpeggios and trills were weak and muddy. Bass John Relyea was a suitable villain as Garibaldo, the role does not show off how beautiful his voice is. Countertenor Christophe Dumaux (Unulfo) has an exceedingly girlish voice, light and slightly quiet. Andreas Scholl certainly was the star of the show, though his Bertarido was slightly stiff and awkward, vocally he was amazing. He has incredible power and control. His transitions between head voice and chest voice were perfect.

Lo t'abbraccio

Aldenrodelinda1The 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.

Queen of Lombardy

Aldenrodelinda2I had the dubious pleasure of seeing David Alden's new production of Rodelinda twice within a fortnight. It was more tame than I expected, no giant robot lab rats, no walking dentures. Thankfully, there was plenty of cigarette smoking, a little drunken staggering, and naturally, things were thrown. Also, five shots were fired from a gun in the last scene, at least it wasn't during the music, as in Götterdämmerung.

The staging aesthetic was reminiscent of Film noir, the costumes were all in 1930s style. The choreography was not too bad, it went with what they were going for, and the principal singers all moved well. Too bad the chorus of background dancers they had were not synchronized.

The transitions between scenes were smooth, although some of the set was quite loud when moved. Also, I did not appreciate that the set took so long to be put in place during the intermissions, one hour for two intermissions is too long for a three hour opera.

Händel's music is celestial, but the chorus is missed in this. The finale is appropriately strong though, hearing all the voices together after all the arias makes an impact.

Ivor Bolton seems to conduct Händel much better than Mozart. It always seems much more together, I have noted this with Saul and Serse as well.

The singing was adequate, no one was particularly brilliant. Dorothea Röschmann in the title role was the most impressive, but she looks timid and she has a tendency to gasp occasionally. Her voice is sprightly. She was excellent in her duet with Michael Chance, she did not overshadow him although the countertenor voice is always a little false next to a soprano. Michael Chance as Bertarido wasn't bad, his voice has sweetness to it, but when he slipped into his real voice, it was obvious. Paul Nilon as Grimoaldo had a likable voice, like most tenors, a little too quiet. I was surprised by Felicity Palmer, who was a sassy Eduige. Her volume is good, but her voice is a little rough. Her shoulders are as slumped as I remember in Giulio Cesare, and she looks most comfortable in the suit that she wears in the last act. Everyone loved Christopher Robson best, he played the buffoon as Unulfo. They have him walk around on stage with a kitchen knife stuck in his arm, when Bertraido mistakenly has wounded him. This got wild applause, though there is no aria in that section.

The audience was very indifferent during the 2. July performance, many people left, there was hardly any applause. In contrast, the 9. July audience clapped after every single aria, but some people left this performance early as well.