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There was the odd hiccup, principally some ugly pitching by Stephen Rooke as the chief crook, Grimoaldo, who alternated two fine arias with two distinctly uneasy ones : 'Within its pain my soul' was indeed just that; descending phrases were a near-disaster; at the arrest Rooke was tuning-perfect, but just before Garibaldo's (ingeniously engineered) coup the notes wavered yet again. The echo arias -- one for Rodelinda ('Ombre, piante'), one for the hero ('ye caves and mountains') -- were superb, although Emma Bell's vibrato doomed all her dourish vowels to sound more or less identical.

The focus of this opera, however, is Bertarido, the exiled Lombard king. Adopting Scholl's Glyndebourne mantle, Robin Blaze began as he went on -- exquisite phrasing, beautifully formed words, gentle and affectionate characterisation, a cherishing of all that Handel intended. His intonation, mode of approaching each note and portamenti in 'Di Cupido impiego i vanni', his words upon arrival, with Haim's spot-on accompaniment, said it all. His 'Dove sei' was as reft as 'Ombre mai fu', as lulling as 'Art thou troubled?', the central 'Sono oppresso' finely tinged by harpsichord and cello, with the vocal reprise sensitively decorated.

Trailing through Lombardy like a demure Peter the Great wandering Deptford, Blaze has the tramp's art of being able to flop and (seemingly) relax wheresoe'er he alights. 'Scacciata del suo nido' (the 'uncomplaining swallow') was melting; the great 'io t'abbraccio' duet with Rodelinda was entrancing, with the odd paradox that Emma Bell's vibrato lies mainly beneath the note, Blaze's above it. Blaze dramatises well : he can yelp in dramatic terror or sear into a moment of raw baritone without compromising the overall beauty. The 'Chi de voi?' ('Which of you, blind love or cruel Fate?') aria, with its passacaglia overtones prefacing the abrupt change in Bertarido's luck, was superb; and his thundering 'Vivi, tiranno!', with blistering oboes in attendance -- Handel in full throttle -- as thrilling as could be.

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Copyright © 22 December 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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