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Barbican, London

THEHandel revival continues, which is not bad for a fat man in a stupid wig who died 247 years ago. Blimey, we'll be having Mozart-like celebration for the old bugger in three years' time.

Handel wrote some cracking operas and they do not come much better than Rodelinda especially conductor Alan Curtis' interpretation with his band of young guns, Il Complesso Barocco.

The emergence of early music-sized orchestra's playing traditional instruments has led to Handel, and indeed other early music composers such as Monteverdi, being heard in a new light, but, more importantly, in the ways composers envisaged, but with the extra touch that comes with a few hundred of years of knowledge.

A late change meant that tenor Kobie van Rensburg was replaced by Filippo Adami. The cast had already been chopped around leading up to the concert: Emma Bell had replaced Simone Kermes in the title role, while Eufemia Tufano had dropped out because of vocal problems, with the role of Eduige being taken over by Romina Basso.

More often than not the changes are to the detriment of the performance, but not in this case. Bell, for instance, has been catapulted on to the A list of sopranos after her performance in Idomeneo on the opening night of La Scala's current season - and does she look the part. Her stature, poise but, more importantly, voice have given Britain a soprano who can comfortably stand on the greatest stages in world music.

Rodelinda is very much an opera linked by arias. Set in 7th century Milan, Rodelinda is a love triangle with a happy ending: Queen thinks King is dead, opportunistic Duke seizes crown and tries it on with grieving widow before King makes a stunning come back to save the day.

There are very few duets, apart from the recitatives, and the haunting Io t'abbraccio, in which Rodelinda and her husband, Bertarido (Sonia Prina) sing what they believe is their final farewell, being the highlight. We have to wait for the end before getting anything like an ensemble piece. Adami plays a moody, conniving Grimoaldo, the man who would be king, looking like Andy Garcia in Godfather III.

The driving strings of Tirannia gli diede il regno sung by the manipulative and doomed Garibaldi (Vito Priante) was typical of the energy of this production.

Prina, in one of the two trouser roles, is the smallest bundle of dynamite since Barbara Windsor's bra popped off in Carry On Camping. Hilary Summers, also in trousers as the double agent Unolfo is all smiles and has the richest alto this side of a pint of Guinness.

It is a wonderful cast, an orchestra with many years of life ahead of it, held together by Curtis' rather professorial persona; blimey, when he tells the violinists to re-tune their instruments they jump at his command. Great stuff.

Review by Peter Wilson

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