George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Rodelinda, Regina de’ Langobardi (HWV19) (1725)
Renee Fleming (soprano) - Rodelinda
Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor) - Bertarido
Joseph Kaiser (tenor) - Grimoaldo
Stephanie Blythe (contralto) - Eduige
Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor) - Unolfo
Shenyang (bass-baritone) - Garibaldo
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Harry Bicket
Production: Stephen Wadsworth
rec. Metropolitan Opera, New York, 3 December 2011 - HD live recording.
Picture format: 16:9
LPCM stereo/DTS 5.1 surround
NTSC all-region
sub-titles Italian (original), English, French, German and Spanish.
Also available on blu-ray 0743470
DECCA DVD 0743469 [170:00]
These DVDs were recorded as part of the Met’s HD live series in December 2011 during the third staging of their Rodelinda since it was introduced in 2004, with Mss Fleming and Blythe reprising their roles from that production; Andreas Scholl joined the team for the 2006 revival.
It’s some time since I reviewed a DVD of this opera conducted by Ivor Bolton with Dorothea Röschmann as Rodelinda and Michael Chance as Bertarido (Farao DVDD108060 - review). That recording re-established my belief that there are no duds among Handel’s operas; there’s gorgeous music aplenty and the performances were good but the production off-putting in the extreme, so that I predicted that I would be listening to rather than watching it in future.
In the event, I’ve come to prefer the recording with Barbara Schlick (Rodelinda), David Cordier (Bertarido) and La Stagione conducted by Michael Schneider. It’s not available separately, but if you’re looking for a bargain of bargains, it’s part of a 22-CD box set from Sony Music 88697489402 with Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, Alessandro, Lotario, Partenope and Serse for around £48. It’s a better performance all round and the other recordings in the set are all at least competent. There are no librettos but a chunky booklet gives synopses and a few music examples, though you’ll need a magnifying glass to see them.
The Met production on the new Decca recording has all the qualities that you might expect. A harpsichord from which Harry Bicket directs and another ripieno harpsichord, plus a theorbo and baroque guitar don’t transform the Met orchestra into a baroque ensemble - for one thing the sound remains too big-boned for Handel, sometimes drowning the singers - but it’s a valiant attempt and it mostly pays off under Harry Bicket’s direction.
The same is largely true of the singing: Renée Fleming and Stephanie Blythe make little attempt to vary their coloratura style and there’s scant use of decoration, but they both sing so well that it’s easy to forgive. Even though the contrast when they duet with one of the two counter-tenors is quite marked, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. It’s not that Barbara Schlick on the Schneider recording has the better voice as Rodelinda; simply that it sounds more in place in baroque opera. Bernard Jacobson was far more critical of Fleming in the 2004 production in his Seen and Heard review.
The larger voices do have the advantage of coping better against the sound of the orchestra, though I was pleasantly surprised how well the two counter-tenors came out in the mix. Modern counter-tenors don’t have the vocal force of 18th-century castrati; I noticed Andreas Scholl having difficulty in preventing his voice being swamped in Giulio Cesare (Harmonia Mundi HMD9909008.09: Recording of the Month - review), but the problem is less acute in Rodelinda - and it didn’t really bother me even in Giulio Cesare. In Rodelinda both Andreas Scholl and Iestyn Davies project against the orchestra as well as most. In fact, it’s not so much that the orchestra swamps the voices as that they sound a little too backward on the sound stage.
The staging is over the top, as you might expect, but that’s part of the deal at the Met. The massive sets, which slide on and off to right and left to produce a huge continuous span - we see them being changed in the first interval - which might seem more at home in Wagner or Puccini, work surprisingly well. Even Garibaldo riding off on horseback in Act III doesn’t seem too out of place. The segment based around Bertarido’s monument looks as if it’s come straight from the canvas of an 18th-century painting.
The camera-work is fairly busy and often close, perhaps inevitably so when the set is so vast, but it does emphasise the very broad gestures and expressions which the singers adopt - these work much better when seen from afar than close-up. Shenyang is particularly given to big emotive faces, when his voice and Joseph Kaiser’s are big enough to do most of the acting without grand gestures. In the interval talk we are told that the director has encouraged the singers to move around and vary their gestures in order to make the inevitable repetition of the words seem more natural - the words da capo aria are never mentioned as, perhaps, seeming too technical for non-musical viewers - but that’s just the nature of a Handel aria. If you want verismo, go to Cav and Pag.
Set and costumes are up-dated from the seventh century to Handel’s own period; that’s far better than setting Don Giovanni in a modern wood, with bus shelter and car, or Rinaldo in a boarding school with knights on bicycles, and it gives the designers and costumiers an excuse to go to town. Grimoaldo’s get-up is especially lavish.
Sound quality and picture are good; I imagine that the blu-ray version clears up some of the mild background shimmer and I see that the blu-ray costs only slightly more - around £17 as opposed to around £16 - so I’d go for that if possible, especially as both versions are inexpensive by comparison with the Farao at around £31. If it’s value you’re seeking, however, I see that MDT and currently have the acclaimed Glyndebourne 3-DVD set of Rodelinda, Theodora and A Night with Handel, with Andreas Scholl again as Bertarido, for around the same price, but that comes with a bizarre production. (NVC Arts 5051865327325 - review and review of Rodelinda.). Joan Sutherland’s many fans will want the (heavily abridged) Eloquence set with Richard Bonynge at the helm (480 6105, 2 CDs), while outright authenticists, who should probably stay away from the Met DVDs and even further from Sutherland and Bonynge, will need the DG Archiv set directed by Alan Curtis (477 5391, 3 CDs).
This Decca set becomes my DVD of choice for Rodelinda, though not in preference to the Schneider CD set.
Brian Wilson 

My Rodelinda DVD of choice, though there is better to be had on CD.