Boy, the crap that opera’s allowed to get away with. The mime, the mugging, the movement, the ideas. Richard Jones’s new production of Rodelinda at the English National Opera seemed to be channelling that heady mix of bullshit and banality that that signer had nailed so well at the Mandela funeral.
Theatre wouldn’t have got away with it. Daytime telly wouldn’t have got away with it. Even the Chuckle Brothers, I reckon, might have thought twice about some of these routines. But apparently it’s absolutely fine to stuff Handel’s Rodelinda with tripe. Especially as the music’s just about to hit the heights. Thus were several sung glories ruined by mindless, barely acted fannying about.
‘Here I am slamming a door!’ ‘Here I am opening a cupboard!’ ‘Here I am opening a box!’ Here I am flicking a switch!’ ‘Here I am with BLOOD ON MY HEAD!’
‘Here I am with a HAMMER!’:
‘Here are my HANDS!’
The opening act set looks rather pretty here. But up close, it felt messy and claustrophobic.
By far the best moment of the night came with the relocation of the Act II pastoral scene to a neon-lit, Lynchian dive.
And there was one coup de théâtre at the end of Act II, the set disintegrating during Iestyn Davies (Bertarido) and Rebecca Evans’ (Rodelinda) ravishing farewell duet, ‘Io t’abbraccio’ (I embrace you).
In fact, thinking again, I’m beginning to feel a little churlish. For while 80 per cent of this production was eminently slag-offable, 20 per cent was as good as Richard Jones gets. As good as opera gets. The final scenes saw a fantastic bit of Jonesian subversion. And the singing was second to none. I could have booed. I could have cheered. Instead, you have this.