Rodelinda, Regina de´ Longobardi
In 1725 Georg Friedrich Händel was at the height of his success as a composer of Italian operas in London. He was thus able to have the foremost singers of the time interpret the leading roles in the premiere of Rodelinda. The legendary fate of the faithful Queen of Lombardy provided the opportunity for developing art of the highest order in a musical interpretation of passions: jealousy, grief, burning love, hatred, longing, fear and remorse – Händel composed an enthralling and explosive display of changing emotions.
Grimoaldo has deposed Bertarido from the throne of Lombardy and believes him to be dead. He now plans to marry Bertarido’s widow, Rodelinda. But Rodelinda remains faithful to her beloved husband even after his death. Bertarido, however, is actually still alive. He returns in disguise to free his wife and child. Grimoaldo’s counsellor, the wicked Garibaldo, threatens Rodelinda’s son and tries to blackmail her into accepting Grimoaldo’s marriage proposal. This scene is watched by Bertarido who, believing his wife to be unfaithful, is close to despair. But she had only pretended to agree to the proposal. When it becomes clear that Rodelinda is true to Bertarido, he hurries into her arms. But then Grimoaldo appears and, spurred by his jealousy, has his rival thrown into prison without, however, recognising him as his old adversary. Bertarido is freed by his repentant sister Eduige who had previously conspired against him. In the garden he finds Grimoaldo who has fallen into an exhausted sleep owing to the severe pangs of guilt that rack him. Garibaldo is about to kill his master but Bertarido intervenes and saves his life. Bertarido’s great humanity and the depth of the couple’s love finally transform Grimoaldo and he returns Rodelinda and his land to his former adversary.
Rodelinda became one of Händel’s most successful works in the composer’s lifetime: in this gripping story about conjugal devotion ideals typical of the middle-class can be found that we still uphold today: Bertarido is a loving husband, a caring father and is not obsessed by power. For these reasons the work proclaims him to be an ideal, benevolent ruler. At his side he has a clever, strong wife who fights for her love. It is therefore no surprise that it was this work above all others that began the renaissance of Händel’s operas in the 1920s.