Handel at the Hudson Opera House
Rondelina Directed by R. B. Schlather Goes Local
By: Susan HAll - Oct 25, 2023
Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House is producing RODELINDA as the first in an ambitious multi-year series of operas by G.F. Handel with the daring, internationally acclaimed director (and Hudson resident) R.B. Schlather. The remaining performances take place October 26, and 28 at 7pm and October 29 at 3pm.
The production features a stellar cast and a re-orchestration performed by the early music band Ruckus. Envisioned as an ongoing collaboration to create opera for a new generation, this inaugural production builds on the extraordinary success of Schlather’s sold-out run of Virgil Thompson and Gertrude Stein’s The Mother of Us All at Hudson Hall in 2017, one of the Best Musical Performances of the Year by several reviewers/
“Handel is a perfect fit for Hudson Hall’s historic 1855 theater. He’s an opera composer whose works become more potent and more thrilling on an intimate scale where the focus becomes the talent and virtuosity of the individual musicians,” says R.B. Schlather. “Rodelinda is a crime thriller about a woman protecting her home and her child after the disappearance of her husband. It explores ideas about love, power, loyalty, tyranny, grief, and ultimately, redemption, with characters audiences can deeply connect with. Rodelinda is ideal for people who are curious about opera and want an introduction to it, as well as for people who love opera, especially baroque repertoire.”
An immediate success when first performed, Rodelinda was the third opera Handel wrote in twelve months. It followed the triumph of Giulio Cesare and Tamerlano but then fell into obscurity. With the revival of interest in Baroque music since the mid-20th century, Rodelinda is finding its way back into the repertory. When it had its American premiere in 1933 in Northampton, Massachusetts (just east of Hudson), The New York Times called the opera “Handel at his operatic best.”
Schlather has long been obsessed with the work of Handel. In 2014, he gained significant media attention as the impresario of a series of radical installations of Handel’s so-called “Ariosto Trilogy.” Presented as crowd-funded, open process installations at the WhiteBox art gallery on the Lower East Side of NYC, Schlather explored the boundaries of performance and access. The operas were praised in The New York Times by art critic Holland Cotter as a fascinating “species of performance art,” and classical music editor Zachary Woolfe called the series “a gift given to the New York cultural scene” and “a valuable project that deserves enthusiastic support."
Schlather’s vision and determination to bring Handel to the Hudson Valley has found the ideal partner in Hudson Hall in Hudson, New York, his hometown since 2014. Schlather’s deepening collaboration with Hudson Hall signals an exciting new direction for the art form and reflects a pandemic-accelerated shift of creative artists and theater goers to Upstate New York and the surrounding areas.
“Thanks to a new generation of talented artists like R.B. Schlather, opera is getting a major refresh,” says Hudson Hall Executive Director Tambra Dillon. “The creativity and originality these artists bring to their work is, in part, born out of necessity. While they have fewer resources than their elder peers, innovators like R. B. bring a fresh and dynamic approach. He’s like an earthquake when it comes to shaking opera out of its late-life crisis.”
With Rodelinda, Schlather brings together a dynamic group of rising and established stars and creative collaborators, many of whom hail from or currently reside in the region. Playing Rodelinda, the soprano Keely Futterer praised as a stand out singer in Tenor Overboard in the 2022 Glimmerglass Festival; mezzo-soprano Sun-Ly Pierce debuts as Bertarido, following her string of debuts with Houston Grand Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and the Fisher Center at Bard College; GRAMMY Award-winning tenor Karim Sulayman plays Grimoaldo; Hudson-based mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz (The Mother of Us All) is Eduige; Massachusetts-based early music specialist Douglas Williams (bass-baritone) is Garibaldo; and countertenor Brennan Hall is Unulfo.
Performing live, the shapeshifting baroque band Ruckus brings the score to life with its visceral and playful approach to early music. The young period instrument ensemble debuted in Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo in a 2017 production directed by Christopher Alden featuring Anthony Roth Costanzo, Ambur Braid, and Davóne Tines at National Sawdust. The band’s playing has earned widespread acclaim: “Achingly delicate one moment, incisive and punchy the next” (The New York Times). Ruckus’s core is a continuo group, the baroque equivalent of a jazz rhythm section: guitars, keyboards, cello, bassoon, and bass, who are joined by violin, flute, and oboe soloists for a 13-member conductorless ensemble.
Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in nearby Tivoli, NY joins as a cultural partner, and is where the cast will be in residence for the month of October. The creative team includes writer and historian Joseph Cermatori as dramaturg, lighting by Masha Tsimring, and Jiayang Zhang as associate designer.