- Rodelinda, Regina de’ Longobardi: Drama per musica in tre atti, HWV 19
Rodelinda was written by George Frideric Handel at the height of his powers, the third in a trio of great works (the others being Giulio Cesare and Tamerlano) premiered by London's Royal Academy of Music between February 1724 and February 1725. Opera historians view Rodelinda as exhibiting all the most important elements of Handel's approach to creating an opera. Taking a pre-existing libretto, he and his librettist, Nicola Haym, pruned much of the (as it is seen) needlessly complicated dialogue, trimming the recitative to less than half its original length. In the process, they also tightened the plot, with the number of characters reduced and the emphasis altered so that the leading roles were given the lion's share of the arias—thus, while the number of arias in the opera overall dropped from thirty-four to twenty-eight, Rodelinda's, by contrast, went from five to eight and her husband Bertarido's from four to six. These arias, too, were often altered, demonstrating, as Winton Dean and J. Merrill Knapp have described it, that "constant feature of Handel's collaboration [End Page 431] with his librettists, the ejection of vague, abstract, or neutral texts in favour of primary dramatic responses" (Handel's Operas, 1704–1726 [Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1987; rev. 1995], 576). This apparent emphasis on "primary dramatic responses" has in turn fostered a belief that Handel the opera composer was principally concerned with constructing rounded personalities. In Rodelinda, it is generally believed, we have a modern dramatic masterpiece, one which is made particularly compelling in the psychological depth given to its eponymous heroine.
It is no doubt the vitality of the title role that has made this one of Handel's most popular operas in recent years (with high-profile productions this year alone in Munich and New York). Not least for this reason, Andrew Jones and the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe deserve our thanks for making available a reliable complete edition (and vocal score) to replace Friedrich Chrysander's of 1876 (Georg Friedrich Händels Werke, vol. 70; reprint, Ridgewood, NJ: Gregg Press, 1965, etc.), which was based on the extant performing score in Hamburg, with additions from the autograph. Correction of Chrysander's omissions and errors, from inclusion of missing music (particularly Bertarido's "Sì, rivedrò la sola mia speranza" in act 2, scene 7, and the concluding duet "D'ogni crudel martir" from the December 1725 revival) to rectification of wrong notes and words, all are welcome.
The Hallische Händel-Ausgabe has gone from strength to strength since 1984 when it internationalized its editorial team and revised its approach. A work such as Rodelinda, which survives in somewhat tangled fashion in eleven manuscript sources, particularly benefits from editorial zeal that lays bare its construction and the variations of its subsequent London revivals to render it more fully accessible. Jones performs this in exemplary fashion: both in the preface (provided in German and English) and in the critical report to this edition (in English only...