In Italian with English Surtitles
Music by George Frideric Handel Libretto by Nicola Haym
Dates and Venue 11, 16, 18, 20 November 2010 at 8pm and 13 November at 3 pm | Royal Theatre, Broughton Street, Victoria
Rodelinda Nathalie Paulin Grimoaldo Benjamin Butterfield Garibaldo Bruce Kelly Eduige Megan Latham Bertarido Gerald Thompson Unolfo Matthew White
Conductor Timothy Vernon Director Oriol Tomas Set and Costume Designer Nancy Bryant Lighting Designer Claude Accolas Principal Coach Robert Holliston Stage Manager Sandy Halliday
Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson
Pacific Opera has staged a modern production of an old piece. Rodelinda, written in 1725, is set in the world of the dark ages when northern Italy was under the sway of the barbarian Lombards and Might was Right and a kingdom was the prize. The historical narrative is overlain by a strong dose of romanticism in which the prize is Love and honour and integrity are virtues.
In the pit are both modern instruments and baroque bows, harpsichord and a theorbo. On stage the very modern set by Set and Costume Designer Nancy Bryant is an abstract of straight lines and hard angles, possibly evocative of the 20th century Brutalist school of architecture or perhaps of the dark heaviness of a Romanesque building. Certainly it represents the heavy-handed wielding of power and offers lurking places for the characters to hide, observe and spy. Against the spare set, the characters move in barbarian furs and leather, with short, stabbing swords, fetishistic deer skulls and antlers, and even a scalp, amongst the props. The lighting by Claude Accolas sends faint beams through the mirk and shadows.
Rodelinda is written for 6 singers only, no chorus or dancers, and consists chiefly of solo arias alternating with with sung dialogue, potentially a challenging format for a modern audience. Luckily, thoughtful staging by Oriol Tomas, a lively orchestra under Timothy Vernon and an excellent cast never let our interest flag, keeping the emotional level high and the action well-paced.
Counter tenor Matthew White (Unolfo) can always be relied on for an elegant and thoughtful performance and he did not disappoint. With a warm and supple tone and understated delivery he conveyed a man thoroughly straightforward and true. Baritone Bruce Kelly had a thoroughly good time chewing the scenery as the very bad guy Garibaldo. The same verve and joyousness in his voice gave extra energy to his artistic skill.
Benjamin Butterfield gave a nuanced performance of the conflicted strong-man Grimoaldo, the usurping king of both Pavia and Milan, wooer of both Eduige and Rodelinda. His assurance while he is in unrelenting pursuit of Rodelinda contrasted nicely with his desire for the simple life as things fall apart. His aria contemplating the shepherd’s life (Pastorello d'un povero armento) was unexpectedly moving.
Eduige, sister of the two rightful kings, is the other character with divided loyalties. Spurned by Grimoaldo she turns to Garibaldo for revenge but later has a change of heart. Megan Latham brought a strong voice and forthright characterization to this terrifying woman.
The golden counter-tenor of Gerald Thompson (Bertarido, King of Lombardy) was equally as energetic and dynamic. From his first aria, a melting, longing Dove sei, through the lyrical, despairing Con rauco mormoria to the final, powerful, virtuoso Vivi tiranno he held the stage.
Nathalie Paulin’s Rodelinda easily matched these very strong performances in both power and emotional expressiveness. She is majestic when dealing with Garibaldo, vulnerable while Bertarido is lost to her. Their duet Io t'abbraccio was sensual and very poignant.
Credit too to all the super-numeraries, consistent Dylan Schmid as the boy Flavio, the discreet women and the four thugs-cum-scenery-luggers.
It is no mean task to make Baroque music seem easy and natural but that plus wonderfully agile coloratura singing and apt, most skillful ornamentation were amongst the pleasures of this production. In the orchestra, the continuo section provided clear and clean support for the recitatives. Phrasing, colour and dynamics, the tempi, were all woven together for dramatic effect, well-balanced and crystal clear. A few problems in staging were only minor distractions in an otherwise stellar occasion.
© 2010 Elizabeth Paterson