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The English Concert - Handel: Rodelinda - The Financial Times

Expressive performances from an excellent cast do justice to the composer’s strongest opera

Each year The English Concert presents a Handel opera in concert at Carnegie Hall, New York, and on tour. Last year’s performance was inevitably cancelled, but a recording was salvaged from the plans, and the work in question is one of Handel’s strongest, Rodelinda.

The opera had its premiere at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, in London, in 1725. It scored a big success, not least because it provided a showcase for some of the greatest singers of the day, led by the legendary castrato, Senesino.

These days, the roles made famous by the castrati of the Baroque era can be sung either by women or men (mezzos or countertenors, respectively). Senesino’s role as the husband-in-exile Bertarido is taken here by Iestyn Davies, as expressive a countertenor as they come, and his pure-toned singing has a star quality that makes his slow arias special.

The recording’s other main attraction is Lucy Crowe in the lambent arias of the title role. Her voice has a distinctive softness at the top that lends a sensitive quality to loyal wife Rodelinda, even if some of the decorations that Crowe adds take her to high notes that would surely have been out of reach for Handel’s sopranos.

A very decent cast also includes Jess Dandy and Brandon Cedel, both admirably firm in the lower-voiced roles of Eduige and Garibaldo, Tim Mead as sterling second countertenor Unulfo, and Joshua Ellicott sacrificing vocal precision for character as usurper Grimoaldo. Harry Bicket and The English Concert’s Handel opera specialists have lost none of their vigour.

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The Financial Times
14 May 2021