The royal we: Rodelinda (Acts I & II) MET 2022.III.24
Updated: Apr 24
In a Met Thursday night Rodelinda the true Handelian divi were the Met Orchestra and conductor Bicket
Rodelinda, Acts I & II
Rodelinda • Elza van den Heever
Grimoaldo • Paul Appleby
Garibaldo • Adam Plachetka
Eduige • Sasha Cooke
Bertarido • Iestyn Davies
Unulfo • Anthony Roth Costanzo
conductor • Harry Bicket
Jory Vinikour, harpsichord (continuo and ripieno)
Kari Jane Docter, cello
Daniel Swenberg, theorbo/archlute
John Lenti, theorbo/baroque guitar
In the most recent Met Rodelinda (Thursday evening 03/24, attending Acts I and II), the staunchest advocacy for Handel's presence on the big house's cartellone came from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and conductor Harry Bicket. Unanimous of articulation, intonation, and dynamics, the house forces were complemented by a continuo cohort by turns gutsy and tender and a recitative team in lockstep with the singers' pacing impulses. An ever-vigilant Bicket allowed his cast room to navigate the score's intricacies while setting a forward pulse that moved each act from curtain rise to curtain fall. Bravi tutti.
The inevitable editorial légerdemain which shapes the performing text of any modern repertory house Handelian production impacts this Rodelinda in curious ways.
Act I is handled with moderation: transposing down a half-step the latter part of Bertarido's entrance number (score No. 6 from «Bertarido fu re» onward) through his entire first aria «Dove sei, amato bene?» (No. 7); giving the A-section only of Rodelinda's «Morrai, sì» (No. 10); and omitting the following Grimoaldo / Garibaldo scene, which includes the former's «Se per te» (No. 11).
Recit-rewriting becomes more prevalent in Act II, which Eduige begins by summing up plot twists in a passage not to be found in the Bärenreiter critical edition piano-vocal score; further along, several of Handel's vocal lines are refitted to text not written by his librettist Nicola Haym; finally, once brother Bertarido and sister Eduige unexpectedly reunite, the C-minor Allegro «Scacciata dal suo nido» for him (No. 21) is replaced by a C-major cantabile for her which likewise cannot be located in the Bärenreiter p-v.
Pairing off the principals as if they were mismatched power couples:
Garibaldo – Eduige
Garibaldo was a good fit for Plachetka's strengths: bluff presence, rugged tone, and—alone in this cast—a big-house Italian enunciation in which strongly formed syllables were paced so that the ear can appreciate the language's stresses. In his Act II aria «Tirannia» he sagely transposed an octave upward the random low F of «crudeltà».
Cooke's performance characteristic seems to be a warm timbre emitted by a cool stage presence. Not one to overplay theatrically or vocally, she inhabited Eduige's contralto-leaning tessitura with reassuring composure.
Grimoaldo — Rodelinda
As il cattivone, Appleby did not stoop to campery—no cartoonish stage villainy nor bashing of tone—yet neither did he embody a sovereign whose vocal effusions are motivated by his struggles with base impulses. Appleby made his way through said effusions without losing his place yet without commanding our ears to follow his journey, ungenerous of melodic inflection, well-defined vowels, and sheer vocal ring.
van den Heever brought much energy to bear on this her fourth Rodelinda ever. Hers is a tightly coiled instrument in which pitch ascent is matched by intensified vibrato, with sustained top tones oscillating just under the pitch center (interpolated B-flat and C in the da capo of «Spietati! io vi giurai»).
Unulfo — Bertarido
Between the two castrato roles, Unulfo could be characterized contralto simpatico and Bertarido contralto eroico. As the former, Costanzo handled the low-lying music without pressing his slender instrument, extending the line upwards in da capo repeats, and reinforcing the bottom reaches with an unexpectedly pungent chest resonance—in real time an incongruous effect yet in retrospect endearingly piquant.
As the latter, Davies was intriguingly dense-toned—in no way mismatched against van den Heever in their Act II finale «Io t'abbraccio»—yet too ready to employ straight tone for emphasis and habitually uttering Italian with the cadences of English, disregarding the elongations of stressed syllables which give la lingua di belcanto its uniquely songlike flavor.
Kudos to those cast members who used the scenery's acoustic «hotspots» to aid their projection: Cooke's nook, against a moving wall-with-a-window, for Eduige's first number «Lo farò»; Plachetka on the staircase platform for «Tirannia»; some voices around a stage right writing desk in Act II; Davies behind, around, and in front of the stable walls in Act I.