Handel: Rodelina

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Farao
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Rodelina
PERFORMER: Dorothea Röschmann, Felicity Palmer, Michael Chance, Paul Nilon, Umberto Chiummo, Christopher Robson; Bavarian State Orchestra/Ivor Bolton; dir. David Alden (Munich, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: D 108 060 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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David Alden’s transpositions of the locales of the operas he directs to other environments are stimulating when they work, annoying when they don’t. It’s hard to see what motivated him to move Handel’s opera, originally set in 7th-century Milan, to a 1950s Mafioso context, although it does allow designers Paul Steinberg (sets) and Buki Schiff (costumes) to come up with visuals that are occasionally atmospheric, even stylish. The dark back alleys where the characters congregate certainly register as promising for criminal activity, while the dresses and even the mannerisms of the two female stars – Dorothea Röschmann’s Rodelinda and Felicity Palmer’s Eduige – have more than a touch of high-camp glamour. But some of the stage business Alden comes up with to entertain the Munich audience in this 2004 production looks like a pretty desperate bid for attention. It also upstages the singing, which is paramount in Handel’s operas; if it’s not great, they just don’t work. There is undeniably serious effort from all involved here, but occasionally the means just aren’t there. Neither of the two countertenors can really hack it any more, and for some reason Mafiosi countertenors register as particularly improbable. As arch-villain Grimoaldo, Paul Nilon’s monochrome tenor wouldn’t frighten anyone either, though he’s a game actor. Umberto Chiummo comes over better as hit-man Garibaldo. Palmer is more than decent, Röschmann is spirited but over-parted at times. It’s not really enough. Good orchestral standards, but the problem is that Alden has become his own style-victim. George Hall