Magazine article The Spectator

Opera on Top Form

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera on Top Form

Article excerpt

Rodelinda Live from the Met, Huntingdon Having seen and been most impressed by two New York Met relays of Wagner operas on the big screen, I was interested to see how the largely close-up medium would cope with a Handel opera, where the challenges are quite different. Both composers have single characters singing for large stretches of time, but, while Wagner's are always involved in a process of feeling, so that there is a sense of exploration at every moment, Handel's are immersed in states of feeling.

In da capo arias they often move from rage to resolution, or something of the kind, but then revert to the original state and its music, presumably to endow their arias with symmetry; though it has been suggested that Handel regards emotional states as inherently obsessional, so that the figures he portrays are all locked, for the length of an aria at least, in a feeling that they are unable to emerge from. That seems to me to be absurd, not so much as an account of the peculiar nature of Handel's operas, as of the way people in fact feel, unless they are trapped or basking in a particular state, which is more the exception than the rule.

Anyway, for cinematic purposes it is tricky to have a singer in close-up endlessly repeating the same words, and tempting for the relay producers to let their cameras wander over the scenery, or to get the director - in this case Stephen Wadsworth - to encourage his singers to fidget. Neither occurred in this relay of Rodelinda, one of Handel's greatest operas, though still, to my mind, caught in the limitations of the da capo form.

When Glyndebourne did it in the late 1990s, it was staged almost as a silent blackand-white movie with a soundtrack of genius. That worked mainly extremely well, and though there was a persistent element of campy humour in what is fundamentally a dark opera, that served to give a clever perspective on the apparently arbitrary vacillations of the characters.

The Met has a completely different approach. The scenery is so complicated that I lost sense of location. Rodelinda is set in Milan, but this one seemed to be in Spain, with sets that might serve equally well for Don Giovanni or Carmen. They move sideways, too, and by the end I felt I had been strolling in a town and had no idea where I'd got to. Not that one sees that much of the scenery - as so often, almost the whole opera is shot in close-up, and one is impressed by how expressive the singers manage to make their faces while reeling off kilometres of coloratura; but one does forfeit a sense of environment and context. …

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