SCOTTISH OPERA - RODELINDA
SATURDAY 26th OCTOBER 2013
RODELINDA BREAKS DOWN BARRIERS
Scottish Opera enjoys an unparalleled reputation for making what can sometimes be caricatured as an elitist art-form accessible by bringing it to the people, and their new touring production of Handel's 'Rodelinda' is a further jewel in this admirable crown. Sung in English and played in modern costume on a delightfully versatile set, this is a presentation which breaks down barriers without compromising standards.
The burden of the drama is borne by six singers while the orchestral score has been reduced for violin, cello and harpsichord – modern instruments, including an electronic harpsichord, but I suppose on the road reliability trumps authenticity. And consistent sensitive musicality with occasional bursts of virtuosic brilliance characterised the instrumental support throughout a long and demanding evening of playing.
The two central characters, the eponymous heroine and her husband, Bertarido, were superbly sung by soprano Sarah Power and countertenor Andrew Radley, whose slow expressive arias and heart-breakingly beautiful duet brought spontaneous bursts of applause from a packed house. But where would an opera be without fine villains? Baritone Andrew McTaggart's thuggish Garibaldo was a dramatically and vocally powerful presence, while tenor Richard Rowe's usurper Grimoaldo cleverly undermined his own evil side with the flaw of conscience. Contralto Sioned Gwen Davies' flamboyant Eduige dominated the stage vovally and dramatically, while countertenor Reno Troilus' put-upon pill-popping court retainer Unulfo was so much more than a down-trodden servant, and ended up winning the hearts of the audience – had he needed it, there would have been a queue of liver donors lining up to help out with his stab wound at the end!
And this was the main strength of this involving and engaging production. Vocally impressive throughout, the performers also drove the action forward during the time demanded by substantial Baroque da capo arias, so that the lovely singing was never an end in itself. These were characters with back-stories and agendas, quirks and foibles, rather than shallow strutting divas, while a fine streak of post-modern irony, essential to allow rather implausible Baroque plot devices to pass muster, ensured that these very human characters held on to our sympathy.
The final star was the simple but infinitely variable set, a stage portico which initially provided a screen for a shadow puppet show filling in background details during the overture, then a columned Palazzo entrance, which split, widened, rotated and reversed, becoming in the process a garden, a prison and a courtyard. Oliver Townsend's brilliant design and Chris Rolls' constantly moving direction dovetailed in an unobtrusive symphony of action and reaction, which proved the perfect dramatic vehicle for this musically and dramatically gripping account of one of Handel's least-known operas.
D James Ross