Friday, November 25, 2011

'Rodelinda' boasts more than Fleming

Renee Fleming is the main box-office draw in "Rodelinda," which is the next of the Metropolitan Opera's movie-theater showings. But if you'll let me look back at when I saw Handel's four-hour feast of arias during its first Met run, I'll point out a couple of other things to be on alert for besides the prima donna.

Like the Dec. 3 showing of "Rodelinda" -- a drama centering on a queen of Lombardy whose husband is thought to have been killed in war -- the 2004 performances also featured Stephanie Blythe in the other female role, a woman who schemes against the heroine but eventually changes her ways. For veteran opera buffs, Blythe's red-blooded singing may bring back memories of Marilyn Horne, who was famed for dispatching Handel's and Rossini's acrobatics with aplomb.

When the vocal line plummets, the very sound of Blythe's voice harks back to Horne's walloping impact. In Handel's lyrical spots, Blythe has a warmth and poise that, for my money, outdo even Horne. But even if Horne isn't your frame of reference, Blythe is a force to be reckoned with.

The second notable item: the set. As that 2004 performance unfolded, I realized that I had never seen a set like this one. The first scene took place in the interior of an Italian villa. It was a realistic-style set, nothing unusual. Then came the surprise. For the next scene, the entire set -- the whole darn thing, filling the enormous Met stage -- moved to the left, bringing the villa's courtyard into view. Later, everything moved still further left, revealing the stable across the courtyard.

How's that for a home tour? The viewers stay put, and the house moves. It's isn't a flashy or high-tech effect, but the very simplicity makes it powerful. And it's a reminder that the Met has one of the largest, best-equipped stages in the world. You won't see the likes of this in Charlotte.

The "Rodelinda" showing will start at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the usual two Charlotte-area theaters: the Stonecrest 22 near Ballantyne and the Concord Mills 24.