To Europeans, New York’s tardiness in catching the Handel bug is as baffling as root beer. It takes a prima donna to make things happen. In 1984, Marilyn Horne brought Rinaldo to the Metropolitan Opera. Twenty years later, Renée Fleming was the advocate for Rodelinda in Stephen Wadsworth’s finely detailed production, now twice revived. Broadcast live in 2011, this performance transfers to DVD without editorial interference. Those who wish to suspend disbelief should skip the mid-opera interviews with the cast – though the conversation with technical director John Sellars is a must for anyone interested in how set-designer Thomas Lynch achieves a cinematic sweep from the Milanese palazzo where Rodelinda is imprisoned to the courtyard and stables where Bertarido hides, deposed and assumed dead.
Directed from the harpsichord by Harry Bicket, the orchestra delivers a nimble performance with some attractive pops of 18th-century colour from theorbo, Baroque guitar and recorders. On stage, Scholl’s cool Bertarido and Iestyn Davies’s mellifluous Unulfo make a pleasing contrast to Joseph Kaiser’s splenetic Grimoaldo, an antihero rich with psychological fault-lines. As Eduige, Stephanie Blythe displays handsome tones, while Shenyang sings the brutish role of Garibaldo with élan. Fleming, without whom none of this would be happening, is perplexing: an exquisite voice untroubled by consonants, mermaid-like in its dolorous beauty from ‘Ho perduto il caro sposo’ to ‘Se ‘l mio duol’. As the silent Flavio, 10 year-old Moritz Linn is vital to the impact of the production, a prince but also a child.