On balance, a delightful Rodelinda last night...
First things first: extreme props are granted to Andreas Scholl in his Met debut. Quite simply, it is the most beautiful countertenor voice I have ever heard. Words aren't enough to describe the exquisite sound and painstaking artistry he brings to this music. It is a crying shame that his fach went out of fashion a few centuries ago, because I want to hear him in everything.
In fact, both J and I were hoping he would take over for Renaay. Now, when I say this, please know that I take no joy in hating on her. I really like believing hype! And I have heard and very much enjoyed her in the past, including Manon earlier this year. But she sounded like ass last night. It was like all of her most infuriating qualities on steroids. The most weak, contrived, covered sound you can imagine. Utter, baffling lack of precision (which is doubly inexcusable in Handel). Total sacrifice of any phrasing or larger line to trying, and failing, to make everything precious. Diction so wretched and lazy I spent the whole evening annoyed that I couldn't understand what she was saying. And I don't know a lick of Italian. And she seems to think the obligatory Beautiful Voice™ moment at the end of each aria makes up for the ten minutes of dreck that came before. I'm not buying it, lady. Hopefully this is just the worst possible music for her and doesn't represent total submission to her demons. Because it really, really sucks to listen to. And it double sucks to hear 5000 people hoot about it pretending like they don't have ears on their heads.
And especially a shame here considering how much the rest of the cast outshone their leader. Stephanie Blythe is such a joy. She takes Handel and makes something really rich and unique out of it. And the voice is just so big and deep and endlessly fascinating. Methinks hers is really what they mean when they call a voice Met-sized: every note just effortlessly cuts to the back of the hall. She's too classy to turn on the guns in Handel, but I have a feeling that when she chooses to sing really, really loud it is literally earsplitting. Christophe Dumaux, also making a debut, did very nicely as well. Ditto John Relyea.
And who couldn't love such a beautiful production? There's "whoa there's a courtyard onstage" and then there's "whoa what an aesthetically pleasing tasteful courtyard onstage". This was the latter. The scene conveyor belt thing was also very cool.
I don't know if I can say whether I necessarily like Rodelinda 'more' than other Handel operas, as it really does all kind of blend together after the fact. But I certainly am very pro Handel in general today. I don't have any huge beef with period instrument stuff, which I find perfectly enjoyable most of the time. But as a bid for Handel as living breathing opera it seems to me that the set up here is hard to beat. It's just a fact that there's a quality in Handel that is a bit beyond the veil of history for modern audiences. The corrective is here: fantastic singers really DOING the arias and with no apologies.