Magazine article The Spectator

Musical Feasts

Magazine article The Spectator

Musical Feasts

Article excerpt

I wasn't going to write about Handel's Rodelinda, wasn't even intending to go, but thanks to the kindness of the press office at ENO I did, and it was so marvellous that I can't resist expressing my delight. Not that it was ideal - no production of Rodelinda is, or, I'm beginning to suspect, can be. The musical side of things, actually, was close to perfect, but Richard Jones seemed to be in several minds about what kind of work it is, and indulged in an orgy of director's gimmicks, gleefully abetted by the set designer Jeremy Herbert. Set in fascist Milan, the show was redolent of Glyndebourne's 1998 production, which took its inspiration from silent movies in the exaggerated posturing of its heroes and, especially, villains. At ENO we have a set of two rooms, one occupied by the baddies, then across a narrow corridor - plenty of doors to slam and reappear through - the intensively surveyed room where they keep their prisoners. Other sets appear, including an imposing fascist monument to the presumed-dead hero Bertarido, and extra storeys, but the original returns.

The question for the director to settle is: how seriously are we to take this drama, which does end happily, with all but the most disgusting villain rejoicing, the good rewarded, the evil converted? But that, it seems to me, is the only sense in which this is a tragicomedy. To send up the villains from the start, and get fairly close to doing that with the heroine and her mute child (here an adult) too, is to diminish, at least to a degree, the grandeur and seriousness of much of the astonishingly inspired music that Handel lavished on this drama. Jones is enough of a sensitive musician to know when to stop the gags, temporarily: for instance, at the end of Act II, as the loving pair Rodelinda and Bertarido are separated by the still vilely intentioned Grimoaldo, they sing farewell to one another from receding rooms, with so powerful an effect that it's hard to think of many operatic scenes so stirring.

The same goes, even more, for Rodelinda's Act III solo, which reaches depths of shattering poignancy. More often, though, Jones commits the basic mistake of directors of Handel: scared that spectators, or for that matter participants, will get bored in da capo arias, he has characters doing ridiculous and irrelevant things, which might easily divert attention from the music and thus the state of mind of the singing character. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.