George Frideric Handel "Rodelinda" (opera in 3 acts)
Premiere of this production: 13 Dec 2015
Co-Production With English National Opera
OPERA IN THREE ACTS
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
BY NICOLA FRANCESCO
HAYM AFTER ANTONIO
SALVI’S LIBRETTO BASED
ON PIERRE CORNEILLE’S
PLAY «PERTHARITE, ROI DES LOMBARDS»
Mimi Jordan Sherin
It is generally considered that Rodelinda is one of the most beautiful of Handel’s operas. It was written in the 1720’s when Handel was at the very peak of his creative powers and producing one masterpiece after another.
From 1720-28 Handel was music director at London’s Royal Academy of Music (King’s Theatre Haymarket). Over this period he gradually transformed the ‘baroque’ model of theatre with its effective crowd scenes, natural cataclysms and great number of weird happenings, into a new vision of opera. And Rodelinda is a striking example of this new vision: here there are no battles, no majestic processions, nor fantastic visions. Strong passions take the place of external theatre effects. The conflict becomes more chamber-like, the characters – more complex and contradictory.
This opera is also of interest for the fact that Handel gives the central role to a woman. Traditionally, it was hero-lovers, legendary military commanders and noble kings who took centre stage in opera, sung by castratos, the first opera stars of the time. But, in Rodelinda, the king (for all the incredibly beautiful music given to him) – is a fairly ambiguous personage. While the opera revolves round a strong-willed, devoted, bold and noble queen.
The librettist (also composer, cellist and impresario) is Nicola Francesca Haym who reworked for Handel the already existing libretto by Antonio Salvi (1710), the latter in turn being inspired by Pierre Corneille’s tragedy Pertharite, Roi des Lombards (1652). For all that, real historical events (as described in Historia Langobardorum by the Benedictine monk Paul the Deacon) form the basis of the opera which, however, are altered to such an extent that there is no recognizing them.
Handel started composing Rodelinda in December 1724, after two extremely successful premières – Giulio Cesare andTamerlano. By January of the following year, Rodelinda was ready and, on February 13th, it was given its first performance. The main roles were sung by the greatest stars of the day - Francesca Cuzzoni (Rodelinda), the castrato Senesino (Bertarido), Andrea Pacini (Unulfo) and Francesco Borozini (Grimoaldo). They had a resounding success. The costume of the main heroine gave birth to a new fashion, according to the historian and writer, Horace Walpole: “on her appearing in this opera, in a brown silk gown trimmed with silver, with the vulgarity and indecorum of which all the old ladies were much scandalised, the young adopted it as a fashion, so universally, that it seemed a national uniform for youth and beauty”. In May of the same year (1725), Handel decided to publish for the first time the full score of his opera (before this only opera librettos or collections of arias were issued). Rodelinda was given fourteen performances and was put on again in December 1725 and in May 1731. In 1735, it was produced in Hamburg…
In the 20th century it was with this opera that Handel began to make his return to the world opera repertoire. On 26 June 1920 Rodelinda was produced in Göttingen by enthusiasts from Göttingen University (the opera was sung in German, with cuts and re-arrangements, all the male parts being sung by “real” male voices – tenors and baritones). By the end of the 1920s, this opera had been heard in many German towns and, in 1939, Rodelinda returned home, in England.
The Bolshoi’s new production of Rodelinda also hails from England: it is a Bolshoi Theatre - English National Opera co-production. Richard Jones, a leading English opera producer, presents us with his view of the work. The ENO production was premièred in 2014. It got a very enthusiastic reception and was praised by the press as being inspired, intelligent, brilliant!
“There have been many radical and memorable Handel productions in Britain over recent decades, though none of them has been by Richard Jones. Astonishingly, the new ENO Rodelinda is his first Handel in the UK, but it’s been worth the wait.
… Handel’s Grimoaldo repents and hands back the kingdom to the real king, Bertarido, but Jones’s chilling ending suggests the new regime will be no less murderous.
Both noir thriller and surreal black comedy, Jones’s version lays on the humour like heavy mascara but at its best it’s inspired. Jeremy Herbert’s ingenious set, lit starkly by Mimi Jordan Sherrin, divides the stage area into as many as six compartments, allowing us to see persecutors and victims responding differently to surveillance and allowing for multiple doorslamming routines that hover between creepiness and slapstick”. (Evening Standard).
“Richard Jones's new production of Rodelinda for English National Opera relocates Handel's masterpiece to an imaginary post-war Italy observed through post-modern eyes. It's an unsettling piece of theatre that probes Handel's bitter political drama with great intelligence, if occasional waywardness.
Jones's interpretation is bleak. He sets much of it in a series of underground rooms that look like some former fascist bunker, but which now comprise Grimoaldo's office, Rodelinda and Flavio's cell, and a torture chamber for Grimoaldo's nasty sidekick Garibaldo. The only escape from this hellhole is to the dreary bar, where Bertarido and his sister Eduige, drown their sorrows under the watchful eye of Bertarido's loyal servant Unulfo.
Jones, as so often, tellingly deploys cinematic allusions. …agonised Rodelinda looks like Anna Magnani in neorealist mode, while the cameras hidden in her dressing table mirror, which Grimoaldo uses to perve over her every action, are out of From Russia With Love. It's strong stuff, though Jones departs from Handel in his treatment of the omnipresent yet silent Flavio. In place of a vulnerable child used as a pawn in an adult world, we find an assertive twentysomething … complicit in his mother's resistance, and transformed, by the end, into a greater monster than those around him. The point about power breeding violence is forcefully made...” (“Guardian”).
Maestro Christopher Moulds, famous for his interpretations of Mozart, Monteverdi and Handel operas conducts the premiere at the Bolshoi.
Bertarido’s throne has been usurped by Grimoaldo, following which Bertarido fled abroad, leaving behind his wife, Rodelinda, their son Flavio, and his sister Eduige. He has now returned in disguise, having circulated a false report of his own death. Meanwhile Grimoaldo, despite being betrothed to Eduige, seeks Rodelinda’s love.
Rodelinda mourns the supposed death of Bertarido. Grimoaldo offers her marriage. She rejects his proposal and rounds on him instead. His ally Garibaldo points out to him that matters will be helped if he breaks off his engagement to Eduige. This Grimoaldo immediately does. Alone, Garibaldo shamelessly reveals that he will pretend to love Eduige and use her as a pawn in his own bid for power, on which she has a claim.
Bertarido enters, in disguise. He contemplates the monument which has been erected to his memory, and wonders what has happened to Rodelinda. Unulfo joins him, but both men are forced to hide when Rodelinda and Flavio enter to visit the memorial to Bertarido. When he sees Rodelinda, Bertarido wants to end his wife’s grief by making himself known to her, but Unulfo restrains him.
Garibaldo threatens to kill Flavio unless Rodelinda consents to marry Grimoaldo. Rodelinda agrees to accept Grimoaldo. However, she warns Garibaldo that once she is again queen he will be executed.
Grimoaldo enters. He is delighted that Rodelinda will marry him and reassures Garibaldo that he has his protection. Bertarido believes Rodelinda is unfaithful. He refuses to allow Unulfo to tell Rodelinda that he is alive and decides instead to wait until she has pledged herself to Grimoaldo.
Garibaldo tells Eduige she has lost Grimoaldo to Rodelinda and should marry him instead. She still loves Grimoaldo. Eduige is horrified by Rodelinda’s consent to marry Grimoaldo. Her love for Grimoaldo, whom she helped to gain the throne, now switches to hate and she plans to take her revenge.
Rodelinda confirms to Grimoaldo that she will marry him, but one condition must be met: that he kill Flavio before her eyes. She cannot be a usurper’s wife and the mother of the lawful king at the same time. Rebuked by Unulfo for encouraging Grimoaldo to kill Flavio, Garibaldo rejects the idea of pity arguing that only through bloodshed can a usurper successfully rule. Unulfo realizes that Garibaldo will betray Grimoaldo as readily as he did Bertarido, and that Rodelinda is, in fact, true to her husband.
Bertarido laments the position in which he now finds himself. Eduige enters and recognizes him. She is pleased to learn that he only wants to rescue his wife and son, not regain his throne (to which she still aspires). Unulfo assures Bertarido that Rodelinda remains faithful to him and that the time has come for him to reveal his identity.
Rodelinda is told by Unulfo that Bertarido is alive. Husband and wife are reunited and he begs her forgiveness for ever doubting her constancy. When Grimoaldo discovers them together, he fails to recognize Bertarido and is appalled to find Rodelinda in the arms of a stranger. Bertarido declares his identity but Rodelinda, afraid for her husband’s safety, claims he is lying. Grimoaldo, uncertain whether the man is her lover or her husband, decides that he will die anyway and leaves the couple to a final parting.
Eduige gives Unulfo a key to the prison cell in which Bertarido is held. Meanwhile, Garibaldo urges Grimoaldo to execute the prisoner without delay whether or not he is Bertarido. Grimoaldo is unable to act.
Bertarido is bemoaning his fate when his thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a sword dropped into his cell. Hearing someone approaching the cell door, Bertarido assumes it to be his executioner, lashes out and wounds the intruder – who turns out to be Unulfo come to rescue him. Bertarido changes his clothes to disguise himself and he and Unulfo escape via a secret passage.
Eduige, Rodelinda and Flavio arrive to rescue Bertarido. When they discover only his old clothes and fresh blood they assume he has been killed. Rodelinda wishes that someone would kill her and end her sufferings.
While Unulfo goes off to fetch Rodelinda, Bertarido determines to be avenged on Grimoaldo. The usurper enters, tormented by his crimes and longing for a simpler life. He falls asleep. Garibaldo appears and, seizing his chance, attempts to kill Grimoaldo; but Bertarido steps forward from his hiding place and kills Garibaldo. Rodelinda enters and is astonished to find Bertarido alive. Unulfo and Eduige explain the rescue. In gratitude for saving his life, Grimoaldo restores the throne, Rodelinda and their son to Bertarido, and takes Eduige as his wife.
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
Bol'shaya Dmitrovka Street, 4/2, Moscow, Russia