PERFORMER: Danielle de Niese, Bejun Mehta, Kurt Streit, Konstantin Wolff, Malena Ernman, Matthias Rexroth; Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir. Philipp Harnoncourt (Vienna, 2011)
CATALOGUE NO: 10144
Rodelinda, Handel’s 1725 drama of fidelity, trust and lust for power, is given a brutal stress-test in this 2011 production from Theater an der Wien. The conductor is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the director his son, Philipp. Furniture and flower-abuse proliferate, and Harnoncourt Snr’s inorganic application of pauses in the arias is distracting. Yet there are moments where the line between comedy and tragedy is skilfully blurred. If the title role heroine remains an enigma – half-Penelope, half-Medea – and is more kitten than tigress in Danielle de Niese’s palely sung interpretation, Harnoncourt Jnr has done much to add fibre to the supporting roles.
The setting, designed by Herbert Murauer and built on a revolve, is a two-storey structure – half-apartment block, half-shopping mall. On the first floor there is a tacky solarium. Below it the remnants of the deposed Bertarido’s forces (their leader assumed dead) huddle in doorways while a teenage hooker touts for trade.
With only seven adult actors Harnoncourt conjures a society in the grip of regime change. Unulfo (countertenor Matthias Rexroth), friend and counsellor to Bertarido, is given a wife and two children, lending extra pathos to his self-sacrifice. Bertarido’s sister, Eduige, becomes a cougar, vamped up and camped up by mezzo Malena Ernman. Bass-baritone Konstantin Wolff exudes seedy charisma as Garibaldo, the usurper’s counsellor, while tenor Kurt Streit is the wiry-toned usurper Grimoaldo. The laurels go to countertenor Bejun Mehta’s Bertarido, sympathetically acted and brilliantly sung. But the camera-work is patchy, and stationary microphones mean the singers are unevenly balanced against the pithy playing of Concentus Musicus Wien.