I didn’t write a review of it but I should have. Short: it was really good.
- The translation of the libretto was a little fast and loose, but I think they were trying to avoid that inevitable that the audience suffers at the end when Grimoaldo and Eduige pair off and the entire audience wonders how much of her jewelry they’ll have to pawn for couples therapy.
- Which brings me to the fact that they changed the way Grimoaldo and Eduige were interpreted from the Glyndebourne version, which is the other version I’m most aware of. Eduige was much more sympathetically drawn here — reminding Grimoaldo that she couldn’t accept his proposals because she was in mourning (as was the case, at least in the 7th century history this is taken from, which was probably about as truthful as your average newspaper). However, there was a sort of strange compensatory adjustment that had to be made to Grimoaldo, making him more manic and a bit out of control until the very end, where he was outright penitent and apologetic to Eduige. It required a huge change to the “Prigioniera ho l’alma in pena” aria, which is a favorite of mine whereby he sung it somewhat snarkily … until he found a letter written to him by Eduige, upon which point he read it and then did the A section reprise in a very melancholy way, clearly still in love with her. (And at no point in love with Rodelinda at all.) Initially, I wasn’t well disposed to the sneery way he was singing it, but when he opened the letter and changed his tone for the reprise, I realized what they had been after, and I liked it much more.
- Scholl had trouble filling the Met, celestial as he is. He was beyond spectacular in the smaller Disney Hall, one of the best performances I’ve ever been to. But … he had trouble filling the Met. Of course, he was still a good actor, and a big, strapping, good-looking guy can always fill a hero’s shoes with aplomb. His duet with Fleming (who was tremendous) at the end of Act II was really incredibly good. But he’s a recitalist singing opera as opposed to someone more like Daniels, who struck me in Disney Hall as an opera singer doing a recital.
- This was definitely a star vehicle for Fleming, and she was incredible. She really was. I hadn’t heard her prior to this and only knew that she was extremely popular. I can see why. Wow. She’s supposedly known for tics and vocal quirks, and I was practically expecting her to hiccough and belch on stage while singing. Nothing. Clean as a whistle, rich, with a nice rounded warble in the low end, and a really good handle on how to embellish this stuff for someone who claims that it’s not her strong suit. Sure sounded like it was to me.
- There’s always a voice that surprises me in every new performance, one person I hadn’t heard of before who shoots out above and beyond everyone else. This time, it was Iestyn Davies who absolutely must speak Welsh with a name like that. He had an extremely light, penetrating, and sparkly voice that, while not having the smoothness and darkness of Scholl’s, had a much easier time in the hall. And let’s face it, he played one of the sweetest dramatic characters ever written in any medium, except for possibly Bob Cratchit. He was so, so good.
- The broadcast was hosted by the world’s reigning Wagnerian Diva Deborah Voigt, who is so comfy in front of a camera that it’s almost spooky. She looked wonderful as always, and escorted the camera around backstage to where we could see all sorts of interesting things happening regards massive stage sets rolling around in slow motion, carpenters milling about, little interviews with the performers (I was in the damned bathroom for Fleming’s but saw Scholl and Davies’s interview — both men came across as very nice), etc. I actually enjoy this way of seeing an opera. I can sip coffee or eat a pretzel, plus get all the great backstage information and chats with performers and backstage crew.
- And speaking of the massive sets … this thing was immense. The whole set slid back and forth as we went from library to garden to stables, then the entire damned stage lifted out of the floor to reveal Bertarido in prison after Grimoaldo’s fabulous “Sospetti, affetti, e timori” aria. Talk about a huge undertaking. It went beautifully, and it looked fantastic.
- It’s hard for me to make a single declaration on the way it was done. Making Eduige a more sympathetic character definitely got the production on my good side, even if it did mean that I didn’t get my food pellet of a sincere and glowing “Prigioniera” nor a penitent, exhausted, “Pastorello,” a la Kurt Streit. So although I missed those two arias done the way I prefer (though they were done beautifully), it was a good trade to get a realistic Eduige out of the deal. And in general, it was a great combination of romance-novel style melodrama without insulting the living daylights out of me. Rodelinda was and remained a very strong, appealing character. Bertarido was still his generally sweet (if dim) self, and Unulfo was a sweetheart as always. Garibaldo was … well, I need to keep an eye on this Shenyang dude because he can rattle the timbers when he sets his mind to it. Helluva voice on him. (You know how contraltos are said to always play “witches, bitches, and britches?” For a basso, it should be “gods, clods, and cads.”)
- Hey, onstage meatball surgery, complete with yelps of pain. Unulfo got doctored up during the finale — literally during “Oh caro bene” — after having had his best friend and boss try to kill him while he was setting him free. He was on his feet and smiling by the end, so props to the surgeon. 🙂
Anyhow, it was really good. And there is one reviewer out there who wrote this up in 2006 or thereabouts who apparently wasn’t aware that Scholl even did that magnificent little bungee jump into baritone during “Infida consorte” and thought he’d slipped into chest voice by mistake and caught himself. As I’ve said previously in this blog, o_O. Oh, well.
So, “The Enchanted Island” is up next! Should be fun!
Update: Can’t believe I forgot this, but there was one more good addition to the production that nagged at me during the Glyndebourne. Before the opening scene for “Spietati,” during which Rodelinda dares Grimoaldo to kill her son before her eyes, she looked over at her son and nodded, and he nodded back, implying that they had conferred beforehand. That scene had seemed so implausible to me the first time I saw it, but just that one little signal between the two of them, and the bold way the little boy playing Flavio walked forward and put his arms out, made it clear that she had warned him ahead of time. Operas in general are not known for their realism, but that really snagged me as particularly bad characterization when I first saw the Glyndebourne. Here, it was still implausible, but much less so, and much less of a grotesque mischaracterization on the part of the librettist.
I have to wonder how much decision-making was done by Fleming to make these various changes; if they were indeed made on her suggestion, then she’s quite good and should be allowed more editorial control over her work in the future. (And possibly over others.) It’s just that many of the interpretations for this particular production all seem to head in the same direction of making it a little bit less … stupid and flimsy in general, which too many operas tend to be, and a bit more level-headed.
To be fair, Baroque operas already have less of that nonsense going on, and that’s a big selling point for them already. Even then, this particular version of an already good opera had a further huge advantage in not taking my money, insulting the shit out of me, and simultaneously expecting me to suspend my disbelief so high that my arms started to go numb. I wish they had put it out on DVD. I’d pay real money for the stream.