"Conductor Michael Beattie led a performance that was brilliantly unified in baroque style and dramatic thrust. The orchestra featured guest artists Chatham Baroque, along with Mark Trawka on harpsichord. The remainder of the ensemble was drawn from Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra, played as though born to the baroque manner."
Pittsburgh Opera scored an especially valuable triumph Jan. 24 when its production of “Rodelinda” opened in the small theater at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school, Downtown. Performances continue through Feb. 1.
“Rodelinda” is an exceptionally beautiful baroque opera, written in George Frideric Handel's prime as an opera composer, not long after “Giulio Cesare.” It overflows with invention in every musical dimension.
The unusual story is based on real events from a millennium before Handel wrote the opera in 1725. Before the curtain rises, King Bertarido has been defeated in battle and is missing. Queen Rodelinda begins the opera by lamenting the loss of her husband and singing of her fidelity to him. The villain, who later proves to have feet of clay, is Grimoaldo, who has usurped the throne and seeks legitimacy by trying to marry Rodelinda.
Bertarido returns in disguise to seek his family, but not, most unusually, the throne. He's captured and imprisoned, but escapes. Near the end of the opera, Bertarido saves Grimoaldo from assassination by his ally Garibaldo. Bertarido and Rodelinda are reunited, while Grimoaldo is left with the throne.
The Pittsburgh Opera performance was outstanding, both vocally and instrumentally.
Soprano Jasmine Muhammad offered a compelling performance in the title role. She was both regal and human. Apart from a bit of edginess in a few of her highest notes, Muhammad sang with gorgeous tone and clean, precise lines.
Mezzo-soprano Carrie Stallings was completely convincing as Bertarido. Her voice was vibrant and agile, while her characterization of the King was bold and heroic without a hint of exaggeration.
Tenor Adam Bonanni offered a convincing picture of Grimoaldo, the usurper who talks (and sings) tougher than he is. Bonanni also sang extremely well, varying his tone and power to dramatic circumstance, and with well-arched phrasing.
Philip Gay was impressive as the truly ruthless Garibaldo, who is the power behind Grimoaldo until he sees an opportunity for more power by trying to kill Grimoaldo. Gay has a one-dimensional character but sang with ample vocal heft.
Bertarido's sister, Eduige, who rejects Grimoaldo's offer of marriage before he turns to her sister-in-law, was ably performed by mezzo-soprano Laurel Sernerdijian. Her voice has appealing weight, intensity and flexibility.
Zachary Wood sang the countertenor part of Unulfo. He's actually a bass, but sang with confidence and appealing, consistent tone octaves above his home turf.
Conductor Michael Beattie led a performance that was brilliantly unified in baroque style and dramatic thrust. The orchestra featured guest artists Chatham Baroque, along with Mark Trawka on harpsichord. The remainder of the ensemble was drawn from Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra, played as though born to the baroque manner.
The staging has to work within the constraints of the small size of the stage. The dramatic focus offered by stage director Crystal Manich is well conceived. However, her idea of the opera as taking place in a war zone was overdone in the set design. More distracting is the practice of have parts of the set, including the fauna to represent the royal garden, move in and out of place while characters are singing.
“Rodelinda” lasts just under three hours as presented by Pittsburgh Opera. There were many cuts; a complete performance would last about four hours. This production also cuts the opera's total duration by breaking it into two parts, rather than Handel's three acts, saving a 20-minute intermission.
Pittsburgh Opera's “Rodelinda” will be repeated at 7 p.m. Jan. 27, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30, and 2 p.m. Feb. 1 at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school, Downtown. Admission is $50. Details: 412-456-6666 or pittsburghopera.org
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.