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Rodelinda by Georg Friedrich Händel Rodelinda at the Theater an der Wien

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 , ora 14.19

Staging this musical under the direction of the already legendary Nikolaus Harnoncourt was announced to be a big event and was indeed one. The solid scaffold on which the production was put on is the ensemble Concentus Musicus, founded by Harnoncourt in 1953, with musicians from the orchestra Wiener Symphoniker. The qualities that brought him recognition were now reconfirmed: responsibility for each sound, being demanding with the singers. From a musical's standpoint, the show was exceptional. The staging direction however, signed by Philip Harnoncourt, the conductor's son, has raised some question marks.

1725-2011, classic opera - modern staging

As for me, the staging had undoubtedly had a dose of inventiveness. The decorations (Herbert Murauer) and light (Bernd Purkrabek) brought a bit of plasticity in the visual element, highly rhythmic. The scene was permanently galvanized by mute characters, acting multiple plans of action development and remarks, so that you could not feel the Wagnerian length of the opera (three hours and a half!). The first two acts and particularly the first one brought in a cascade of theatrical information.
On the rotary podium, placed on a pivoting platform, the scenery consists of a house's skeleton without walls, made of concrete, with something happening on each of its levels. Several scenes took place at the same time. Thus, the feelings of the characters and their reactions to events were recounted simultaneously, trough intertwined narrations, which made me remember some modern novels, such as Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa. The resemblance is induced also by the social environment, with reference to the present time, where action takes place. What was noticed by everyone is that Händel wrote Rodelinda in 1725 and Philip Harnoncourt staged it in 2011.

Classical, pop?

The Lombard Queen, Rodelinda (conqueror played by the Australian creole Danielle de Nies) has the profile of a beautiful, temperamental, audacious gangster wife. She is blackmailed by the usurper Grimoaldo (Kurt Streit) and miraculously finds her husband Bertarido (with countertenor voice embodied by Bejun Mehta) whom was thought to be lost. The singers are playing just like real actors of some contemporary play, with the tone and gesture of a pop opera. Moreover, the supporting female role (Eduige) is played the Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman, known for the challenges which she initiated on the border area between classical and pop and she also represented Sweden at Eurovision in 2009 (with the song La voix ). The necessary beat, flavored with erotic spices of staging, wasn't brought just by Malena Ernman and Danielle de Niese. It's Handel's music that provides all the dramatic assertion.

Staging details vs. Ironic grin

If the action takes place now in a nest of rebels, of mafia clans or gangsters, it'salright, as long as there is coherence between the music, the subject and scene (and there was). What I could not understand (and sadly raised some ironic grins) were a few staging details: Bejun Mehta's entrance aria, of a vibrant beauty, which was seconded by a Mohammedan's prayer, who moves awkwardly in the slowly music pace; the same Bejun Mehta, during a conclusively dramatic moment, gets inside of an inflatable plastic pool to sing 'cry me springs and streams', and the King mutilates his arm with a knife disappointed by the refusal of Rodelinda. Sure, self-mutilation is plausible in a barbaric environment (although populated by men of power) in which the action is fantasized. However, without details of this kind the original staging and the contemporary dialog suggested by Harnoncourt father and son with Händel could have convinced even the ones that still doubt the success of the opera Rodelinda.

Haiganuș Preda-Schimek
Translated by Anca Toma and Laura Bosnea
MTTLC, Bucharest University