Melbourne’s opera cognoscenti breathed the rarified air of Melbourne Recital Centre for a gala concert of sublime quality last night.
The perfect opera for a concert presentation, Handel’s Rodelinda requires only a streamlined cast of six principals and no chorus. In the absence of surtitles or narration, the audience were just invited to sit back and let the glorious music wash over them.
Living legend Maestro Richard Bonynge worked his magic on the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, leading a pristine rendition of the time honoured score. The picture of good health and even better posture, Bonynge’s love and enjoyment of the music was palpable as his charmingly modest grace brought out the very best from all on stage.
Presented with an interval only between acts two and three, the lengthy opera fairly zipped along as the audience respectfully held their applause after each aria. Enthusiastic applause came forth at the break for interval, and a rousing, extended standing ovation was given during a series of curtain calls at the conclusion of the evening.
The singers were evenly divided between highly experienced and fast rising stars. While the two men were in white tie and dinner suits, something of a happy accident saw two of the women in dark green with the other two in dark purple, creating an attractively balanced stage picture.
Exquisite soprano Greta Bradman made the strongest possible impression, winning a legion of admirers in her role debut as Rodelinda. Throughout the night, Bradman exhibited extraordinary control of her voice. Her skill for beginning phrases with rock-solid pitching of high notes was heard in act two’s “Spietati, io vi giurai,” while her incredible sustained pianissimo was heard in “Ritorna, oh caro e dolce mio resoro,” in which her voice seemed to float upwards on scarcely a whisper of breath. A magnetic stage presence and a great beauty, Bradman’s appearance in fully staged works is highly anticipated.
Young tenor John Longmuir demonstrated the luxurious tone and effortless high notes of his supple voice. As Grimaldo, who has taken the throne from Rodelinda’s husband, Longmuir appeared the most prepared of the cast, rarely, if ever, glancing at the score as he sang. This effort in preparation afforded him the luxury of adding layers of expression and feeling to his vocals, greatly enhancing his performance.
The pleasure of performing Handel’s wonderful music was evident from Lorina Gore, who beamed with pride and joy throughout the night. An accomplished and thoroughly delightful soprano, Gore made the most of the somewhat thankless role of Unulfo, friend to Rodelinda’s husband.
Imposing mezzo-soprano Fiona Janes showed great command and authority as Rodelinda’s husband, Bertarido. While the performers had not been given direction so as to act their roles, Janes’ significant stage skills allowed her to bring a noticeable depth of feeling to her performance. It was a pleasure to see and hear Janes on the Melbourne stage again. In an opera full of solos, Janes’ duet with Bradman at the close of act two (“Io t’abbraccio”) was a clear highlight of the evening.
Liane Keegan brought her considerable stage presence and mighty contralto voice to the role of Eduige, a woman torn between her brother, Bertarido and the man who took his throne, Grimaldo. Keegan brought the dramatic aspects of this featured role to life thanks to her vivid facial expression and the startling power of her lower notes.
Formidable bass Michael Lewis demonstrated the advantage of extensive experience in bringing interest and intrigue to the supporting role of Garibaldo, counselor to Grimoaldo. A dynamic performer, one can only imagine how much more Lewis would have brought to a fully staged production.
Keen opera lovers were left thoroughly satisfied by Rodelinda. Future concert events of a similar status are not to be missed.
Rodelinda was presented by Joan Sutherland Richard Bonynge Foundation at Melbourne Recital Centre on 3 October 2014.