English National Opera
From 26 October 2017 to 15 November 2017
Review by Louise Lewis
This revival of Richard Jones's 2014 production of Handel's opera is well deserved. His production embraces the darker side of Rodelinda to great effect, moving the action to Facist Italy and throwing us straight into Handel’s three-act drama.
The story begins after the overthrow and supposed killing of Bertarido, whose throne has been seized by Grimoaldo who needs to cement his power by marrying Rodelinda, Bertarido's widow. The plot is complicated by Grimoaldo’s prior engagement to Eduige, Bertarido’s sister. As the plotting begins, Grimoaldo is awed by widow Rodelinda’s steely resolve, and driven further to her by lust. In the meantime, Bertarido pops up, whose death was only faked.
The majority of the action takes place in Grimoaldo’s headquarters, the set a partitioned box of connecting rooms, one side open to the audience. One is Rodelinda’s whitewashed holding cell full of CCTV, a narrow corridor and Grimoaldo’s more lush office. The interconnecting rooms provide plenty of doors to slam and mean Rodelinda is forever on show.
Within this seedy world where power struggles abound, some unexpected levity prevails. There is excellent acting from Matt Casey Rodelinda’s son and mute sidekick, who needed no words to hog the limelight. Rather than a young defenceless child, Jones has him as a grown man who spurs on the the action. His darkly humorous, mimed death threats to Garibaldo were a highlight of the night.
The production is certainly not a traditional staging. Jones provokes with an orgy of director’s gimmicks, but in my mind these are largely helpful in sustaining the plot through Handel’s repeated da capo arias. The energy of the potentially frivolous choreography is complimented by moments of true pathos.
Tim Mead's (Bertarido) “Dove sei” was simply breathtaking, his technical assuredness resulting in a sparkling silver thread of sound, able to shimmer at the quietest of moments.
Both Susan Bickley and Rebecca Evan’s reprise their 2014 roles. The latter as Rodelinda has the vocal agility and dramatic prescence in spades, but Evans voice lacks the lustre which would have added the final sparkle to an otherwise strong performance. Bickley similarly feels less fresh than I am used to hearing this fine mezzo but a powerful performance nonetheless.
Mead’s and Evan’s duet at the end of act two also proves to be worth the wait—after nearly two hours of solo arias, Handel rewards us with the glorious sound of their beautifully intertwining voices.
Spanish tenor Juan Sancho makes his ENO debut with great aplomb—his fine tenor complimenting this oily interpretation of the usurper.
Neal Davies as seedy, power hungry Garibaldo is a pleasure to hear and Christopher Lowrey admirably negotiates some tricky treadmill choreography.