The English Concert - Handel: Rodelinda - American Record Guide

With its brilliant music and complex characters, Handel's Rodelinda is one of his more interesting and performed operas. None of the six characters is less than three-dimensional. Even the villain of the piece (Garibaldo) is more complex than what one usually gets in librettos of the time. Perhaps even more unusual is that the opera deals with a happily married love—very rare in any operatic genre. There have been several previous studio recordings (Curtis's with Kermes, Bonynge's with Sutherland, Priestman's with Teresa Stich- Randall) and the Met revived it in a beautiful production by Stephen Wadsworth for Renee Fleming back in 2004. Harry Bicket (who also led the Met production) was supposed to perform it in New York, but the Covid pandemic put paid to that. Not to be discouraged, Bicket got together with the English Concert and recorded it anyway. He tells us in his notes that the challenges were huge: "All performers had to be two meters away from each other, which for an orchestra is like trying to juggle with one hand tied behind one's back...Gradually it became clear we needed to adjust our ears and sharpen other antennae in order to cohere in such a spread-out environment. But finally, cohesion comes, as it always does, from a common vision and a passion for performing, something that had been at the heart of The English Concert since its founding almost 50 years ago." Perhaps because of the challenges of the recording circumstances, all the performers have come together to give us a beautiful and dramatic account of one of Handel's greatest operas. Lucy Crowe sings with uncommon strength and purity, mirroring the title character's own qualities. Rodelinda is no push-over, and Crowe demonstrates that with her silvery voice and effortless coloratura. Iestyn Davies is one of the best countertenors in the business now; his Bertarido is forceful and manly. He too has no difficulty with coloratura and delivers an exciting account of his last act aria `Vivi, tiranno' (it used to be an encore for Marilyn Horne). Joshua Ellicott has more voice than most Handelian tenors, and he uses it to add color and dimension to perhaps the most complicated character in the opera. Jess Dandy is a lovely Eduige and Brandon Cedel a sly and sexy Grimoaldo, providing a strong bassbaritone in an opera written almost entirely for treble voices. Tim Mead is a sterling Unulfo, though it's difficult to tell his and Davies' voices apart in their recitatives together. Bicket conducts the complete score with style and strength. He has also made sure the soloists ornament appropriately. What could have been a dull three and a half hours goes by very quickly. The English Concert offers a resonant, scintillating ensemble setting the scenes and then commenting on them as they work with the soloists to create this story and these characters. The sound is appropriately intimate with plenty of air for the voices and instruments. Linn offers notes, texts, and translations. All Handelians should get this; even if you normally shy away from Baroque opera, you will discover what a treasure this opera is.

American Record Guide
11 November 2021