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The plot -- ousted king (of Lombardy) returns to Milan to reclaim, if not his throne, his bride and son who are about to be appropriated by his rival, and narrowly avoids a sticky Cavarodossi ending -- is one of Handel's most vivid (Nicola Haym's skilful libretto derives, via Antonio Salvi, from Corneille). There is some cogent character drawing in the arias, notably of three types of henchmen: the mezzo Eduige (an on-form Jean Rigby as the hero's sister, temporarily teamed up with the bad guys -'To avenge my humiliation, I will turn my love to fury'); Garibaldo, a double-crossing villain of wide baritone-bass range whose vocal demands were ideally suited to one of British opera's nattiest character-actors, Jonathan Best; and Unulfo, loyal friend and aide to the returned hero, who must call on similar tact and ingenuousness to conceal his own double act. Unulfo, like the hero, is a countertenor (the capable Matthew White); the effect of three of the six principal characters residing in the mezzo/alto range is one of the most striking of the opera.

This Glyndebourne staging puts not a foot wrong. Among its strong features is the use of props : Unulfo's manipulation of a suitcase, gloves, whisky, or folding a morning suit, polishing shoes -- often enough encompassing a complex alto aria beautifully as he does so; the boy Flavio's book, satchel and toys, enjoyed in play by Rodelinda, then brutally toyed with by the sinister, dastardly, pasty-faced secondary villain, Garibaldo (an eminence terrible, self-admittedly 'pitiless, perjured, urgent, evil, cruel'), who brandishes his cigarettes like a lord but hides behind his copy of Corriere della Sera, like a plotting mafioso; a basket, a tea trolley and a pistol (together the source of some glorious black comedy); the tramping hero's ubiquitous sacks; or the final celebrations, all roses, confectionery and champagne, with Unulfo and Flavio (Aaron Fulthorpe) acting as twin Ganymedes.

So too the touring sets : a fence, a lamppost, effective rear doors, a statue whose simple reversal, as the hero finds the villain in his clutches and instead of killing him protects him, corroborates the twists of fortune; or a Sturm und Drang clouded sky, glowering over Grimoaldo in Keith Benson's uniformly well-lit treatement. Here and there a character exits only to enter again, or hovers onstage (Garibaldo, Eduige) during another's (notably Unulfo's) aria. The use of four footsoldiers is masterly : everything is given context; nothing -- not a shimmer -- is wasted. This is Handel as whodunnit, Baroque opera at its Agatha Christiean best.

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Copyright © 22 December 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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