Handel’s Rodelinda

Rodelinda [concert performance]

Rodelinda – Emma Bell
Bertarido – Sonia Prina
Grimoaldo – Filippo Adami
Unulfo – Hilary Summers
Eduige – Romina Basso
Garibaldo – Vito Priante

Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 1 February, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Despite three of the originally booked singers for this performance of “Rodelinda” withdrawing, and the tenor substitute also dropping out, what we heard was on a very high level. The opera was not given complete, as Alan Curtis’s recent DG recording is, for a few arias were omitted, but what I heard certainly made for a highly enjoyable evening.

Curtis’s Il Complesso Barocco comprised 20 musicians; their crisp and elegant playing under the conductor’s knowledgeable and experienced direction gave much pleasure.

The characters are divided into two camps. Grimoaldo (who has usurped the throne of Bertarido, believed to be dead) and his ally Garibaldo are the ‘baddies’. The latter is the one person to die, killed by Bertarido. As with many of Handel’s basses, this is a smallish role. It was taken at the Barbican by the only singer cast as in the recording: Vito Priante, who conveyed Garibaldo’s menacing presence in a firm and true but not large or lush voice. As Grimoaldo, the 25-year-old Filippo Adami replaced Kobie van Rensburg, who had stood in for Steve Davislim. Adami’s short biography in the programme shows him to be a singer of Mozart and baroque roles. His is not a big voice but it was expressive, especially in a very sensitive rendering of “Se per te giungo”, cleanly articulated. He did lose a couple of arias.

Of the four ladies, three were mezzos/contraltos, distinct in vocal colouring. Darkest in sound was Hilary Summers, a known and experienced Handelian, whose soft-grained alto provided contrast with the more incisive tones of the Italians. Occasionally I felt that some of the notes in her lower-middle range were too covered, but the voice moves smoothly through the divisions. In the shorter role of Eduige, Romina Basso provided a tone with some bite, which does not mean that it was shrill or harsh, and showed no difficulty in the coloratura. I liked the quality. Like Adami, she was new to me, and I want to hear more.

The two remaining roles are among the best that Handel wrote. Glorious music falls to both of them, with magnificent arias, be they “Ombre, piante” and “Se’l mio duol” for Rodelinda or “Dove sei” and “Vivi, tiranno!” for Bertarido – and how well it was performed. Emma Bell was on top form, her voice plush and full, with no hint of the very slight tonal spread heard on her Linn CD of Handel arias. Her vivid singing is fast and decorative arias were matched by her eloquence in slower pieces. There was a moment in the middle section of “Ombre, piante” when she produced an initial high note that was crystalline, ethereal and celestial, eliciting from me a silent “wow!”.

Equally impressive was Sonia Prina, who sang Eduige in the recording. Promoted to Bertarido, she was really inside the role, bringing dramatic engagement to a concert performance. She possesses a lighter colour than Basso and Summers and does not have the dark hues of such past exponents of the part as Maureen Forrester or Huguette Tourangeau, but they were not needed. She had no difficulty with either end of the role’s compass and navigated brilliantly through the coloratura of “Se fiera belva” and “Vivi, tiranno!”, receiving, as did Bell, long and loud applause, and rightly so. She impressed me when I first heard her on CD a few years ago and did so again on this evening.

It was good to hear the da capo sections of arias being ornamented. If a Handel opera had been cast 40 years back with four Italians, one would probably have heard a number of aspirates. Fortunately, even the most intricate of vocal runs and scales were free of such excrescences, even from an Italian tenor. It all added to one’s enjoyment of a splendid opera.

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