A fierce mob wife: Rodelinda at ENO
This week in fierce opera women: Handel's Rodelinda opened at English National Opera last night. While not a total work of feminist theatre, I do like seeing operas from the 18th century where women are shown as strong-willed characters in control of their own destinies and not being controlled by men. In fact, the plot is driven by how much the other characters of the opera need Rodelinda - she, being the queen and mother to the heir of Milan in this modernized production, is in possession of so much political power that the the people around her have to fight for her favor just to stay afloat.
Concrete walls and surveillance cameras set the scene for this revival production by Richard Jones, set in Mussolini's Italy. The connections between characters were threaded by the tattoos displayed on their bodies - as alliances changed, the ink remained permanent. The stage was divided into sections so we could peer into different rooms at once, which means that in the long da capo arias there was almost always something for the eye to catch.
Rebecca Evans was lovely as the title role which requires a heavy amount of stamina, navigating the very difficult passages that give a sense of power and true purpose to Rodelinda. It was exciting to see Rodelinda as a fierce mob wife, and it made me hopeful that a composer might be inspired to write an opera adaptation of the hit reality television show, "Mob Wives."
The countertenor Tim Mead sang Bertarido with elegance and grace making the exiled king a noble and sane man, winning the audience on his side with the beauty of his voice. The countertenor singing was incredibly strong, with Christopher Lowrey singing alongside Mead as Unulfo.
The graciousness of Bertarido was a stark contrast to Juan Sancho's Grimoaldo, whose desperation to hold onto his kingdom intensified throughout the night. While Susan Bickley's Eduige was very well sung, her voice seemed to be wasted on a role with not many impressive arias and a character that had little to do with the action of the story. Matt Casey was a scene stealer in the silent role of Flavio, the son of Bertarido and Rodelinda.
Under Christian Curnyn, the orchestra played stylishly and with an energy that breathed life into the already timeless music of Handel. Like the rest of Italian opera at this time, all of the arias are written into pre-existing tropes - you have your fast coloratura aria, your aria written in unison with the strings, your aria that has an obbligato for a wind instrument, maybe a lament thrown into the mix as well. The ENO orchestra played with a great variety and with an array of colours, making each number interesting and alive. Perhaps the most stunning number in the entire opera is the duet at the end of the second act, "Io t'abbraccio."
You can see this master work by Handel at the London Coliseum until November 15.
For details and ticket information about ENO's Rodelinda, follow our box office links below.
Rodelinda is a dramatic tale of power, anguish and love. When Grimoaldo takes Bertarido's throne, Bertarido flees abroad, leaving behind his grieving wife Rodelinda. The usurper tries to force Rodelinda to love him, but when the exiled king returns in disguise, everyone is put to the test.
One of Handel's finest operas, Rodelinda is filled with intense drama told through ravishingly beautiful music. Award-winning director Richard Jones brings his distinctive theatrical imagination to this production, which sets Handel's bitter political drama in Fascist Italy.
Heading the cast is Rebecca Evans, whose performance of the title role in 2014 was hailed as "perfection" (Daily Telegraph). Also returning for this first revival is Susan Bickley and Baroque-specialist conductor Christian Curnyn. Tim Mead, regarded as one of the UK's finest countertenors, adds Bertarido to his roster of ENO roles.