By Lynne Gray, PhD
This can be streamed from the Met’s Website www.metopera.org
Sunday, June 14
Handel’s Rodelinda ~ 3 HRS 17 MIN
Conducted by Harry Bicket, starring Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Andreas Scholl, Iestyn Davies, Joseph Kaiser, and Shenyang. Transmitted live on December 3, 2011.
With its typically tangled web of plotlines and Handel’s characteristic combination of lyricism and vocal fireworks, Rodelinda is Baroque opera at its finest. In this 2011 Live in HD performance (seven years after the opera had its very long-overdue Met premiere considering it was written in 1725!), Renée Fleming (we’ve seen her so far in Onegin, Rusalka, Rosenkavalier, Merry Widow, Nozze, Capriccio and Thaïs) brings her star power to the title role – the 7th century Queen of Lombardy. Rodelinda grieves for her husband, who is believed to be dead, while she struggles to protect their son and heir to the throne, Flavio, from the grasping usurper Grimoaldo (Joseph Kaiser – who was also in Capriccio, Salome and Exterminating Angel). Leading countertenor Andreas Scholl is the deposed King Bertarido (a role originally played by the world’s most celebrated castrato of the time, Senesino). Bertarido’s friend and advisor, Unulfo, is countertenor Iestyn Davies (we saw him in Marnie and Exterminating Angel). Stephanie Blythe (we’ve seen her in Rheingold, Walküre, Falstaff, Ballo and Orfeo) is a marvelous Eduige, Bertarido’s constantly conflicted sister, who is betrothed to Grimoaldo, then turns against him, but is reconciled by the end. Stephen Wadsworth’s production is conducted by modern Baroque master, Harry Bicket.
The Met’s production has been updated from the original setting in 7th century Lombardy (the area around Milan) following the fall of the Western Roman Empire and during a time of repeated invasions from the north. This production is set in the very early 1700’s (the Baroque era in which it was actually written), by which time the Austrians had taken control over much of the Lombardy region, but there was still considerable warring and political turmoil. The story is complex – a glorious tangle of emotions and intrigue to say the least – and to add to the confusion, the names of the principal players are both unfamiliar and confounding – like Grimoaldo and Garibaldo and Gundeberto (who is not even in the opera but figures in the story). At least – for a good deal of the opera – the three G’s are the “bad” guys – I told you it was complex!
Before the action even begins, there is a back story to understand. Bertarido, king of Lombardy and Milan, has been attacked and deposed by Grimoaldo, who is an ally of Bertarido’s estranged brother, Gundeberto. Gundeberto was killed in the battle and Bertarido had to flee (leaving the impression that he too had been killed), but also having to leave his queen, Rodelinda, and their young son, Flavio, in the power of the usurper, Grimoaldo. Grimoaldo had originally been promised the hand of Bertarido’s (and Gundaberto’s) sister, Eduige—which would grant him a more legitimate claim to the throne. Eduige and Grimoaldo had actually fallen in love earlier, but now she has postponed the marriage while she is mourning the loss of her two brothers (don’t think too hard about this one!). From abroad Bertarido has seen to it that word of his death in exile has reached the court (through his only friend still there, the loyal Unulfo), allowing him to return to Milan in disguise and rescue his wife and son.
In the opening act, we are introduced to Rodelinda and Flavio, being held in the palace and mourning the loss of Bertarido, “Ho perduto il caro sposo,” (I have lost my darling husband). Grimoaldo enters with his advisers to announce his wish to marry Rodelinda – restoring to her her title and her crown – and of course legitimizing his own claim as king. He is summarily rejected by Rodelinda “L’empio rigor del fato” (My hard fate can’t make me do this). Eduige is appalled at Grimoaldo’s betrayal of her, but nevertheless offers him her hand again – and so a different path to legitimacy. Grimoaldo, however, is still angry at Eduige’s previous postponements of their marriage, and so he rejects her. Meanwhile, Garibaldo (Grimoaldo’s counsellor and the Duke of Turin) now makes his own overtures to Eduige and we learn that he too has ambitions for the throne. Eduige does not reject Garibaldo and says she will consider him once she has had her revenge on Grimoaldo. I told you this was complicated!
By this time, Bertarido has made it back to Lombardy and is hiding on the estate where Unulfo is helping him. He sees his own memorial in the garden and reads the inscription, longing for Rodelinda in one of the opera’s most famous arias, “Dove sei, amato bene?” (Where are you my most beloved?). Then he secretly watches as Rodelinda and Flavio come to lay flowers on the memorial. Garibaldo has followed her, however, and issues an ultimatum from Grimoaldo – either marry Grimoaldo or her son will be put to death. Having no choice, she consents – to the horror of the secretly watching Bertarido who takes it as a personal betrayal.
Back in the palace, Garibaldo is again pressuring Eduige – even offering to kill Grimoaldo for her. When he sees her revulsion however, he realizes that she still loves Grimoaldo. Rodelinda enters and Eduige’s anger turns on her sister-in-law for agreeing to marry Grimoaldo. Rodelinda assures her that her only concern is for Flavio and that she has a plan to foil Grimoaldo. Eduige leaves and Grimoaldo enters. Rodelinda sets out her terms for marrying him: he must kill Flavio with his own hands in front of her. Grimoaldo, horrified, refuses. After Rodelinda leaves, the truly evil Garibaldo tries to convince Grimoaldo to go ahead and kill the boy and take Rodelinda by force. Grimoaldo, beginning to find his heart, refuses, saying Rodelinda’s courage and resolve have made him love her more.
There is much more intrigue, plotting, betrayal, redemption, and reunion to come in this heart-warming work – in addition to much more wonderful Handel music and breathtaking coloratura in famous arias like Bertarido’s “Vivi tiranno!” (Live, tyrant) and Rodelinda’s “Sposo, ti stringo al sen;” (Husband, while I embrace you, embrace your son) – as Garibaldo finally gets his due and the entire family is re-united in joy and forgiveness. Not a bad thing for Father’s Day!
1. Renée Fleming in the title role of Handel’s “Rodelinda” at the Met. Photo Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
2. Renée Fleming as Rodelinda and Stephanie Blythe as Eduige in Handel’s “Rodelinda” at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
3. Renée Fleming as the title character and Andreas Scholl as Bertarido in the Metropolitan Opera production of Handel’s “Rodelinda.” Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
4. Renée Fleming as the title character and Andreas Scholl as Bertarido in the Metropolitan Opera production of Handel’s “Rodelinda.” Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera