The season, day by dayback to calendar
Dramma per musica in three acts
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, based on Pierre Corneille's tragedy Pertharite, roi des Lombards (1652). First performed February 13 1725, King’s Theatre Haymarket, London
Co-production with the Teatro Real, Madrid, Opera de Lyon & Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles.
Introduction, in German, in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin
Background Before he died Ariberto, King of the Langobards, divided his kingdom between his sons: Gundeberto to rule in Pavia, Bertarido in Milan. An argument broke out. Gundeberto summoned Grimoaldo, Duke of Benevento, to help him, promising him his sister Eduige's hand in marriage in return for military assistance. Bertarido killed his brother before Grimoaldo arrived. He fled Grimoaldo's superior forces; leaving his wife Rodelinda and son Flavio behind, and sought refuge with the King of the Huns, from where he spread false reports of his death. He's on his way back to Milan, incognito, to rescue wife and child. Grimoaldo has meanwhile ascended the Langobard throne. Act 1 Rodelinda mourns her husband, who she believes dead. She rejects Grimoaldo's courtship. Grimoaldo asks his ally Garibaldo, Duke of Turin, for advice. While Rodelinda persistently turns him down, Eduige demands that he honour his promise of marriage. Garibaldo advises him to be tough on both women. So Grimoaldo reminds Eduige that she refused his hand in marriage, while he wasn't in power. Now that he's King, he rejects her. Eduige turns to Garibaldo, who pretends he loves her, to demand satisfaction from Grimoaldo. But Garibaldo has a secret plan: to use Eduige to win the throne for himself. Bertarido returns and sees a monument erected in his honour. Unulfo, officially Grimoaldo's adviser, but secretly on Bertarido's side, urges him to keep out of sight. Bertarido sees his wife Rodelinda and son Flavio mourning him. Garibaldo takes the boy hostage: threatening to kill Flavio if Rodelinda refuses to marry Grimoaldo. Rodelinda gives in, but says she will take revenge on Garidaldo as soon as she's in power by demanding his head as a wedding present. Grimoaldo calms Garibaldo, he'll protect him from Rodelinda's fury, even if she's his wife. Bertarido thinks Rodelinda is being unfaithful. He forbids Unulfo to tell her that he's still alive; wanting to put her to the test and see if she really marries his rival. Act 2 Eduige still loves Grimoaldo. Filled with hate she meets Rodelinda, apparently getting ready for her wedding. When all are gathered, Rodelinda demands something else from Grimoaldo: She will only marry him if he kills her son Flavio, in her presence. Grimoaldo doesn't know what to do, he can't possibly carry out such a crime. Garibaldo is convinced that a tyrant can only stay in power if he is prepared to carry out such atrocities. Unulfo dismisses this idea in disgust declaring that, in the face of all adversities, hope is not yet dead. INTERVAL Eduige bumps into Bertarido. He promises he's not there to dispute the crown; he only wants to rescue wife and child. Unulfo brings news that Rodelinda has put Grimoaldo firmly in his place again. Bertarido now resolves to meet his wife, in secret. Unulfo leads the way; Rodelinda hears from him that her husband is still alive. When Rodelinda and Bertarido fall into one another's arms, they're interrupted by Grimoaldo. Bertarido, defending his wife's honour, admits who he is, while Rodelinda, frightened for his life, maintains he's a stranger. It's all the same to Grimoaldo: who has Bertarido arrested after taking his leave from Rodelinda. Act 3 Eduige sides with her brother, joining forces with Unulfo to save him. While giving Unulfo the key to the dungeon, she smuggles a dagger into the cell through an opening in the ceiling, so Bertarido can free himself from his bonds. Bertarido attacks Unulfo when he opens the door, thinking it must be his executioner. Although Unulfo is wounded, they both manage to escape, leaving Bertarido's coat behind, stained with Unulfo's blood. When Rodelinda, with Eduige and Flavio, finds the coat in the prison, she believes, for a second time, that her husband is dead. Overcome by conflicting emotions, Grimoaldo wishes he was a simple shepherd. He falls asleep. When Garibaldo finds his ally sleeping, he decides to kill him. Bertarido prevents the murder by killing Garibaldo. When Rodelinda arrives she can't believe her eyes: her husband has eluded death once more. Grimoaldo is impressed by Bertarido's noble deeds. He turns to Eduige again; wanting to marry her and rule with her in Pavia. He hands the throne of Milan back to Bertarido. So Rodelinda, Bertarido and Flavio are reunited.
A family tale full of electrifying tension: Bertarido killed his brother in a squabble over the throne, but fled Milan when his brother's powerful ally, Grimoaldo, turned up, leaving his wife Rodelinda and son behind ... Grimoaldo has ascended the throne and will stop at nothing to make Rodelinda his own. Bertarido has made his way back to Milan in disguise to rescue his family ...
George Frideric Handel wrote Rodelinda in London in 1725, a year after he composed Giulo Cesare in Egitto and Tamerlano, and two years before he became a naturalised British subject. Handel was inspired by his collaboration with the librettist Nicola Francesco Haym, a crafty man of the theatre, a musician who was skilled at adapting existing opera texts. They chose to base their opera on a work by a predecessor, Antonino Salvi, who had transformed Corneille's 1652 tragedy into a libretto in 1710. Corneille incorporated historical events as they were described in a 7th century Lombardian chronicle. Handel's (and Haym's) portrayal of the three main characters took on an unusual psychological nature. Unusual, too, is the role of the child, Flavio, who says nothing but takes on an important function. When the story is told from his perspective, as Claus Guth did in his 2017 production at the Teatro Read in Madrid, the power games and love intrigues surrounding his parents, aunt and the foreign intruder in the royal household intensify, culminating in a gripping, nightmare of events.