George Handel's opera 'Rodelinda' makes Asian debut in Shanghai

Yao Minji
George Handel's renowned baroque opera "Rodelinda" made its Asian debut in Shanghai on Sunday, with the original cast of the 2021 critically acclaimed studio recording.
Yao Minji
George Handel's opera 'Rodelinda' makes Asian debut in Shanghai

A three-and-a-half-hour concert version of George Handel's opera "Rodelinda" made its Asia premiere at the Shanghai Concert Hall on Sunday evening.

The rare full program of the baroque opera, performed by the English Concert under the baton of Harry Bicket, features the original cast of the 2021 critically acclaimed studio recording of the opera.

"Playing Rodelinda is fascinating although dramatic," said soprano Lucy Crowe, who plays the title role.

"Not only once but twice, she thought her husband died. To have that opportunity to be completely overwhelmed is quite interesting and also very difficult to play."

The opera premiered on February 13, 1725 in London, and has long been regarded one of Handel's greatest works. It's also a rare case of his work being named after a heroine rather than hero.

Rodelinda's husband, the king of Milan, had his throne usurped by a neighboring Duke. In order to return in disguise and rescue his wife and son, he sent word of his own death. The queen, devastated by the news, tries her best to protect her family and state.

George Handel's opera 'Rodelinda' makes Asian debut in Shanghai

Bicket, who was named music director of the English Concert in 2006, is particularly known for his baroque and classical repertoire. His first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in 2004 was also for "Rodelinda." The conductor, harpsichordist and organist is confident that the program can engage audiences despite its length.

"For myself, I can be bored by something that lasts only 20 minutes," he explained.

"It has nothing to do with the length, but also whether you are engaged. That's our job, to make it interesting."

One fascinating point about "Rodelinda," he added, is that the story is being told in real time. That, however, is particularly challenging and fascinating for countertenor Iestyn Davies, who plays Rodelinda's husband, the king.

"With real time, you have very simple emotions to express in a few minutes, and you have to make it interesting and engaging. You need to create the drama that time is past, even when you are not on stage, and come around the corner with a different mood, or color," he explained.

"Like my character, he begins the opera while not actually being there, because they think he's dead. I arrive 20 minutes into the piece. In a way the opera starts again when I arrive. He is kind of a peacemaker. He is not interested in revenge, but wants to come back for his son and wife."

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