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Handel – Rodrigo

Rodrigo – Gloria Banditelli
Esilena – Laura Cherici
Florinda – Annamaria dell’Oste
Giuliano – Leonardo Di Lisi
Evanco – Susanna Rigacci
Fernando – Caterina Calvi

Stage direction – Luciano Alberti
Ensemble San Felice / Federico Bardazzi - conductor
Lufthanza Baroque Festival
St John’s, Smith Square – 17 May 2008

This was performance that I can only be describe as a feast of baroque entertainment seen through 21st century eyes.

From the fashion house of Enrico Coveri, the costumes were elegant period designs realised in vibrant colours and soft modern fabrics which allowed the singers to move with obvious freedom and comfort.  Brightly dyed ostrich feathers added the final flourish.   

As the audience took their seats, the platform was dominated by an artistic pyramid of weaponry and armour: the sort of thing that would be carved from marble and mounted on the wall of a grand palazzo, but here moulded from creamy resin. It set the scene very effectively, although at mid-stage it proved a bit of an obstacle during the performance.The very awkward performing space in St John’s usually rules out anything more than the most rudimentary scenery, but last night modern technology came up with the neatest of solutions, and video projection delivered a kaleidoscopic panorama of Filippo Juvarra’s period set designs.     

I wished these could have incorporated some surtitles (I have recently seen this done very neatly in Budapest). Printed copies of text and translation were distributed with the programme, but one was reluctant to withdraw the eyes from the action on stage.

The music was the icing on this baroque cake.  Rodrigo is the first opera that Handel composed during his stay in Italy, and it was first presented in Florence in 1707.  Whilst it is a wonderful example of Handel’s early style, no full score has survived and the piece has inherent weaknesses connected with the libretto.   Sensibly, Alan Curtis’ scholarly reconstructed performing edition had been chosen, but nevertheless the rather lengthy recitatives tend to outbalance the shortish arias. 

During the first act there is little sign of that wealth and variety of melodic invention which is one of the delights of Handel’s later music.   But the music warms up with the plot and the coloratura takes off as the swords are drawn.   These roles demand significant vocal flexibility and stamina and the cast produced some fine fireworks, and the Ensemble San Felice supported them well.

There had to be a drawback to all this, and the latish (7.30pm) start obviously gave rise to anxiety about last trains home.  Surreptitious glancing at watches became increasingly evident and a number of people left early, with regret. 

Serena Fenwick

See recordings at http://www.newolde.com/handel_rodrigo.htm

Illustration from Curtis Complesso Barocco CD