Opera: I'm ready for my close-up, maestro

RODELINDA GLYNDEBOURNE SUSSEX

A GLAMOROUS woman emerges from her chic apartment building. She is distraught, strikes a tragic pose. And another, and another. The images are monochromatic, the look distinctly 1920's, and the woman - her name is Rodelinda - might easily have stepped straight out of an Erich Von Stroheim film. Except for one thing: this star of the silent screen sings Handel. And rather well.

Betrayal, grief, longing, contempt, revenge. And, of course, glamour. High-born individuals in compromising predicaments. The periods or locations, the political or historical contexts, are interchangeable; the plots are improbable. But the human factor - the intensity of human feeling - makes for a new experience every time. How much old movies have in common with Handel operas. And how clever of the French director, Jean-Marie Vellegier, to have made that connection. As the opening scene of this handsome new Glyndebourne staging unfolds and we see the ambitious and arrogant Grimoaldo (the excellent Kurt Streit) force himself upon the proud and constant Rodelinda, it's as if the surtitles are suddenly silent movie captions. There's an exclamation mark to every gesture, every facial expression. With each operatic stanza, Grimoaldo and Rodelinda - and how magnificently she resists him! - assume another precarious clinch. Attitudes are struck and held at the best angle for the camera. And all the while we, the audience, are out there in the dark, looking through that lens.

Finding the right body language, the right level and intensity of gesture and expression for opera seria of this period is a constant dilemma for the opera director. The wonder is that no one (to the best of my knowledge) has thought of it before Vellegier. The hand gestures of the silent screen would seem to have evolved so naturally from those of baroque opera. Why, Louise Winter, as Eduige, sister of the opera's deposed hero Bertarido, would seem to have borrowed Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond for the night. Her habit of kindly leaving the stage after the aria only to reappear from somewhere entirely unexpected for the da capo is a recurrent feature of Vellegier's production. He gently pokes fun at the conventions of baroque opera without ever ridiculing them. And because his sense of the genre's formality is strong, and his stage pictures (designers Nicolas de Lajartre and Pascale Cazales) elegantly composed, the balance of tragi-comedy (and there is humour, or at least irony, in all Handel) is well maintained. It helps that everyone is dressed for dinner at all times (costumes Patrice Cauchetier), but the mere sight of Anna Caterina Antonacci's Rodelinda, a vision in grey silk set against a blackened stage, assumed a classical beauty all its own.

Add to that the music, the arias - one exquisite number after another - and you add the drama. It's all in the vocal lines. Antonacci's physical charisma was more than matched in her singing. This voice is not in itself a great instrument, but the artistry with which she deploys it will surely convince you that it is. The Italianate temperament ignites the coloratura - we can almost take that for granted - but it is her imagination, her ability to lend enchantment to the long phrase, to hold it, and you, in thrall that makes her really special. With one word, "umbra" ("shadow ... of my beloved"), and one note held on an eternal crescendo, Handel has her reaching out to the husband she thinks dead. He, in the personage of the remarkable German countertenor, Andreas Scholl (his stage debut quite a coup for Glyndebourne), has just such a moment in his first aria, and Scholl, silencing, hypnotising this house with the sheer ravishment and refinement of his singing, played like a zephyr on our aural senses. The voice is almost too beautiful to be subjugated to the rigours of Handel's dramatic pyrotechnics, but Scholl was never faint-hearted. And when he and Antonacci bade farewell at the close of Act Two, parting was rarely of such bittersweet sorrow.

As ever, William Christie, directing a sumptuous sounding Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, gave the score its head. There was time for fantasy, time for delectation, and end cadences to have one drooling for the next.

At the close, showers of flower petals provided the evening's first splash of colour and even the villain of the piece came back from the dead. A cocktail trolley duly appeared, right on cue. It takes a Frenchman, it seems, to know the Glyndebourne audience.

Glyndebourne box office (01273 813813)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam