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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing