The English Concert - Handel: Rodelinda - Limelight
The Royal Academy of Music’s 1724-25 season. Handel has three hits on his hands: Tamerlano, Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. Fast forward to 2020 and it’s not looking so good for live music. Harry Bicket and the English Concert can’t perform their annual Carnegie Hall Handel opera, so they decide to record instead, on home soil.
Which wasn’t without its problems, as Bicket reflects: “The challenges were huge; all performers had to be two metres away from each other, which for an orchestra is like trying to juggle with one hand tied behind one’s back.”
Yet the challenges were overcome. The resulting recording, made over a few days in St John’s Smith Square, London, demonstrates how well these guys really could “juggle with one hand tied behind one’s back”.
Bicket is of course a seasoned Handelian. And a seasoned Rodelindian. He first conducted Rodelinda in the late 1990s, at Glyndebourne. Not to mention, famously, at the Met, with Renée Fleming in the title role, in 2004 and 2011. Here, he has the luxury of working with singers schooled in a 21st-century conception of Baroque style. Together they bring alive this story of fidelity, betrayal and redemption with clarity, conviction, and critical acuity.
Especially compelling is soprano Lucy Crowe as Rodelinda, whose lavish embellishments in the da capo aria repeats serve to humanise rather than trivialise the heroine’s torments. Countertenor Iestyn Davies as husband Bertarido is all poise and passion, while tenor Joshua Ellicott’s conflicted Grimoaldo throws the more straightforward villainy of bass Brandon Cedel’s Garibaldo into sharp relief.
Contralto Jess Dandy (Eduige) and countertenor Tim Mead (Unulfo) round out this excellent cast in equally fine style. Which quality also characterises the playing of the English Concert, directed from the harpsichord by Bicket.