And you thought your family was dysfunctional.
At the beginning of G.F. Handels opera Rodelinda, the put-upon queen of an 18th-century Italian kingdom, is in a pile of trouble. Loosely based on a historical struggle for power in Lombardy, the opera begins as Grimoaldo, a usurper, has taken over King Bertaridos palace. He puts the queen and her son under house arrest and proposes marriage in order to ascend the throne. Everyone assumes the king is dead.
What is a suddenly single mother to do?
If youre soprano Renée Fleming, you sing the part with passion and conviction, right through to the unbelievable ending.
Think about it: Its a rarity for a soprano to sing the role of a mother. Rodelinda may be glamorous, but shes also fiercely protective. She gets to sing the beautiful aria Mio caro bene to her son.
With about 30 arias, a duet or two, but no ensembles, Rodelinda is pure Baroque filigree. With so many opportunities for virtuosic music making, you can understand why musicians would want to be in an opera with a plot thats full of absolute nonsense.
In the beginning, the king has disappeared and is believed dead. A beautiful queen has been widowed. One of two villains, Grimoaldo (tenor Joseph Kaiser), wants to be king. Hes already proposed to King Bertaridos sister, Eduige (Stephanie Blythe), but who cares? Hes ambitious, and marrying the queen is a better shortcut.
Rodelinda refuses Grimoaldo, and in one of several subplots, Eduige seeks revenge on him.
Meanwhile, the king has not died; hes just in hiding. He disguises himself as a soldier to spy on his court and check on his wifes loyalty. Unfortunately, he witnesses Rodelinda surrendering to Grimoaldos wishes. What he doesnt know is that she and her son have been threatened with death if she doesnt comply. The plot thickens.
Rodelinda comes up with the most unlikely counterscheme, and Grimoaldo backs down. His supporter, Garibaldo (sung by the Chinese baritone Shenyang) intervenes. At the end of Act II, the king and queen are briefly reunited. They sing a beautiful duet of despair before poor Bertarido is found out and imprisoned. It takes some conniving to get him out, but Rodelinda is miffed that the kings man, Unulfo (Lestyn Davies), is the one to orchestrate the escape not her. Shall I go on?
Needless to say, everything gets straightened out by the end with only one major death along the way, and its not Grimoaldo, Villain No. 1. He confesses; king and queen are reunited, and the kingdom is saved. Most absurd of all, Eduige forgives Grimoaldo for reneging on his original proposal, pursuing the queen, plotting against her brother the king and behaving badly throughout. At the end, Eduige forgives Grimoaldo and accepts a fresh proposal of marriage. Hmmm.
Thats more than you need to know to enjoy Handels opera. Composed in 1725, Rodelinda features two countertenor roles the king and Unulfo. Duke Grimoaldo is a plain tenor. The effervescent Fleming sings the lead role, and Blythe performs her thankless sisterly duties in the mezzo role of Eduige. The only bass-baritone in the lot is the one unambiguous villain, Garibaldo. As everyone knows, you can never trust a bass-baritone.
The production lasts four hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions. It will be sung in Italian with Met subtitles in English
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.