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March 3, 2014updated 11 Jan 2016 1:57pm

Review: Rodelinda, ENO

By Spear's

Still reeling from the awesome revival of Peter Grimes, venturing back to the ENO to see a brand-spanking new production of Rodelinda by Richard Jones filled me with a little trepidation: could this match up?

I needn’t have worried, for this superb cast offered us the most sumptuous singing, an involving and entertaining set and some clever direction full of wonderful themes.

Jones has brought Rodelinda into 1940s Milan but sticks closely to the storyline of a king deposed, a queen harassed and a throne regained. The plot developments are clunking, but all one could do is laugh as the unlikely twists were wittily handled by Amanda Holden’s translation. The audience delighted in this admission of ridiculousness that Opera Seria often throws at us.

Read more of Melinda Hughes’ reviews from Spear’s

Jones gave us treadmills, skillfully negotiated by all the singers, plenty of tattoos challenging the notion of loyalty, large comical knives, some clever video installations and a lot of door-slamming, which sometimes turned it into somewhat of a Michael Frayn farce.

Not to worry, for I’m pretty sure this is all intentional and for those purists out there who despise the ‘bastardising of opera’ (I certainly encountered one very angry opera goer on the first night), as a singer I can tell you the most important thing: the soloists all got chances to stand still and deliver the most sublime arias, devoid of complicated choreography.

It is a well-balanced and thought-out staging, giving credence to the music while keeping us involved visually and intellectually. I for one would be bored to hear three hours of Handel sung by soloists dressed in togas raising and lowering their swords. The plot is rather ridiculous so let’s not kid ourselves: this is the triumphant execution of a tricky storyline.

As for the singers, I cannot gush enough about how utterly divine Rebecca Evans’ Rodelinda was, what a rich tone and perfect technique she had, giving us some flawless high pianissimi to die for. If you want an example of the finest of British singing, this is it.

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Evans was matched by the countertenor Iestyn Davies as the rugged, brooding king Bertarido in exile, with his solid, full tone. He also delivered pretty well on the looks front, making him the manliest countertenor I’ve ever heard or seen.

Christopher Ainslie was a committed servant to John Mark Ainsley’s obsessive and evil Grimoaldo, who salivated over Rodelinda’s every move. He is superbly perverted as he spied on her via video cameras installed in her bedroom.

He was matched by the wonderful Richard Burkhard as his menacing ally Garibaldo. Fine singing indeed. Top this with the legendary mezzo Susan Bickley as Eduige, the confused sister of deposed Bertarido, in love with Grimoaldo, and you have the perfect cast.

Rodelinda has some sublime music-making too, particularly in the duet at the end of Act Two when Rodelinda and Bertarido are reunited, all passionately conducted by Christian Curnyn. Jones’ production of Rodelinda is an absolute triumph.

Until 15 March

Twitter @melhugsopera

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