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GRAMOPHONE (02/2015)
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Reviewer:  David Vickers


This production is something of a family affair because the stage director is the conductor’s son. Set in a revolving architectural compound inspired by a fusion of Piranesi and Escher, the staging has a fair few flaws but it also offers a mostly astute examination of characters – all of whom are portrayed as layered human beings.


Some ideas work powerfully, such as Bertarido’s first entrance (‘Dove sei’) finding him down and out with the homeless, and reading news of his death in an old newspaper (instead of reading the inscription on his own tomb). Other ideas, such as the suppression of all but the middle section of Rodelinda’s defiant ‘Morrai sì’, are clumsy errors of judgement. All the gun‑pointing in ‘Spietati, io vi giurai’ misses the point and is wholly implausible, and the implication that the honourable servant Unulfo is a wife‑beater is gratuitously horrible. However, as usual with such productions, things settle down and work best in Act 3: the circumstances of misunderstanding related to Bertarido’s liberation from prison are depicted poignantly, and reserving the final chorus for an encore by the cast taking their final bows is a really nice idea.


Concentus Musicus Wien and Nikolaus Harnoncourt approach every movement as a fresh piece with regards to rhythm and texture, without lapsing into complacent formula, even if the musical results are a mixed bag. Danielle de Niese’s afflicted Rodelinda, under pressure from the usurper Grimoaldo, is acted to a T but over‑laboured vocal delivery, shaky vibrato and dodgy tuning work against the musical line in ‘Ombre piante’; her performance of ‘Ritorna, oh caro e dolce mio tesoro’ is genuinely moving. Bejun Mehta’s mannered Bertarido often acts petulantly and ineffectually but bassoons and recorders conjure an emotive pastoral atmosphere in ‘Con rauco mormorio’, and his eventual moment of moral triumph is delivered magnificently (‘Vivi tiranno’) and shows the character’s trajectory from outcast to hero. Konstantin Wolff is an ideally villainous Garibaldo, whose advocacy of evil tyranny in ‘Tirannia gli diede il regno’ is chilling, and Unulfo’s breezy ‘Un zeffiro spirò’ is conducted and played as a whispered secret (and it feels absolutely right). Kurt Streit’s voice is more effortful in quick music than it used to be but his eloquent sotto voce in the anguished tyrant’s ‘Pastorello d’un povero armento’ is enthralling; his relationship with Malena Ernman’s complicated Eduige is given just as much care and depth as the principal heroic couple, and the closing stages of the opera are enacted with integrity.


Although uneven and flawed, this is the antithesis musically and dramatically to the New York Met’s glammy pseudo-Baroque production by the amiable team of Stephen Wadsworth and Harry Bicket. Without a doubt, the Harnoncourts reach far deeper into profound emotional situations and feelings but leave some collateral damage along the way.


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