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In black and white

10/20/2001 -  and 23, 26 October
George Frideric Handel: Rodelinda
Emma Bell (Rodelinda), Stephen Rooke (Grimoaldo), Jonathan Best (Garibaldo), Jean Rigby (Eduige), Robin Blaze (Bertarido), Matthew White (Unulfo), Aaron Fulthorpe (Flavio)

Glyndebourne Touring Opera orchestra, Glyndebourne chorus

Emmanuelle Haïm (conductor), Christopher Cowell (revival director)

The previous incarnations of Jean-Marie Villégier's production of Rodelinda for Glyndebourne had style and intellectual coherence. The silent-movie setting, mainly inspired by Stroheim's proto-fascist perversions but with a touch of something classier from the high days just before sound, certainly brought out the powerful meshing of sex and politics in the opera; and the acting style, rich but broad, and organized around extended shots, seemed ideal for the arias. But, in spite of some fine individual performances, the whole didn't quite amount to the sum of the parts, largely because the music was never quite there. In Christopher Cowell's revival for the 2001 tour, though, everything has come together, under the remarkable musical direction of Emmanuelle Haïm.

The cast is perhaps more of an ensemble this time round, although Emma Bell's Rodelinda is definitely a star turn. She has more than a hint of Gloria Swanson, utterly tough but human, even nurturing, with it. Her singing is robust, but she is quite at home with Handel. Jean Rigby's daffy Eduige, Jonathan Best's lip-curling Garibaldo (reprised from the 1998 tour) and Matthew White's gently camp, Harold Lloyd-ish Unulfo, are a fine comic team, while Stephen Rooke was vocally solid but dramatically deranged as Grimoaldo, the tyrant malgré lui. Robin Blaze as Bertarido looked and sounded very young and slight, but his singing made up in style what it lacked in weight.

This performance, though, grew from the orchestra upwards. Haïm is currently best known as a harpsichordist, and the orchestra plays for her as a single instrument. The music is always shaped dramatically, in a way like a great silent-movie accompaniment, though with a much stronger sense of form. Haïm has worked with William Christie, and has perhaps picked up some aspects of his style -- she is similarly fascinating to watch at work -- but this performance at least had less bravura and more pure expressiveness. Her promised Rameau with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will be worth hearing.

Rodelinda tours during November.

H.E. Elsom



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