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Rodelinda: The Metropolitan Opera (Bicket) [DVD] 
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Stephen Wadsworth's 2011 production of Handel's opera for the New York Metropolitan stars Renée Fleming in the title role. Baroque specialist Harry Bicket conducts the Met's orchestra and chorus; Stephanie Blythe and Andreas School co-star.
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The sets, though, are huge, and give the impression, according to the director Stephen Wadsworth, that there is more behind the proscenium arch than in front of it. It recreates an Italian setting with large buildings and a picturesque foreground, among other things. The elegance of the design recalls Piero della Francesca or Tintoretto in its columns receding into the frame. The story concerns a queen in what feels like a 17th century Lombardy setting (it is loosely based on Corneille) whose husband she thinks is dead but actually isn't. He returns from exile to find her grieving while trying to defend their son's future against a usurper to the throne. Misunderstandings ensue and a great deal of intricacy, but it really draws you in. Much of this is down to the splendid cast. There are only six vocal parts, but they are all superb. Renee Fleming has some very demanding coloratura arias that would stretch anyone, yet her tone remains gleaming and full at all times, no matter how many runs and ornaments she has to get into the phrase. Stephanie Blythe is equally good as the deposed King's sister, while the King himself, Bertarido, is given stunning projection by Andreas Scholl - what a combination of physical power, grace, and gentleness in the voice. Every aria he sings touches the heart. His chief advisor is another countertenor, the estimable Iestyn Davies, leading to some wonderful sections where two countertenor voices are heard together. For lovers of that particular voice, this must be the ultimate opera experience! The presentation by Deborah Voigt seemed excellent to me, giving the plot outline and providing interviews with singers and key figures in the production that fill it out very well. The direction by Harry Bicket is full of life and rhythmic buoyancy, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra sounds as if this is its true calling.
The opera was originally placed in late 7th century Milan, when there were kings of Lombary Pavia and Turin. The present production shifts the time to 17th-18th century Lombardo-Tuscany to good effect, although historically there were no kings of Milan or Pavia at that time. This shift in time to a country house in Tuscany or Lombary (Milan) does work although it results in a less than a regal/palatial aspect originally conceived for the opera. The sets of the countryside and house are a delight to watch and move both horizontally and vertically into place (the prison scene in Act 3, actually rises up from the understage). The attention paid to set detail in creating a realistic Italian villa in the Milan or Tuscan countryside is quite fantastic, in keeping with the long tradition of great Met opera realistic produtions. The costumes are 18th century European. The reduced Met orchestra with added period instruments, under the direction of the British conductor and Baroque specialist, Harry Bicket, director of the English Consort since 2007, plays like a jewel of a Baroque orchestra - actually a highlight of the production.
On this DVD the opera is annoyingly introduced by soprano Deborah Voigt; and each act is punctuated by an interview backstage with one of the principal singers et.al., while the stage sets are being transformed for the next act. The set designer Thomas Lynch is also interviewed in these inter-act punctuations, which would have been better served if placed altogether at the end of the opera as is the interview with Joseph Kaiser, and not annoyingly and disturbingly between acts.
In summary: this is an easy to watch production because of the dynamic stage direction with generally very fine singing, and finely detailed sets, which moves the opera dramatically out of a possible static da capo Baroque aria style to great effect for dramatic motion slightly at the expense of a dilution of classical baroque beauty. It is a very good overall production but not emotionally chilling. It will be remembered for the sets and the orchestral playing. Recommended. For the best recorded CD version of this opera see:Handel: Rodelinda, HWV 19