Major Operas | Rodelinda by George Frideric Handel | Late Baroque

Composed in 1725, Rodelinda is remarkable for its quality. Handel composed many exceptional accompanied recitatives for Senesino throughout their collaborations, and in this opera the dethroned King Bertarido, believed dead by his steadfast wife, laments his misfortune in an accompanied recitative and aria, ‘Pompe vane di morte! … Dove sei amato bene’, which shows Handel as a supreme master of his craft.

Bertarido’s eventual confrontation with his usurper Grimoaldo, in ‘Vivi tiranno!’, is a thrilling example of how Handel’s arias can be both technically spectacular and emotionally astute: the coloratura is bright and ferocious, but the sentimental tone of the aria brilliantly captures Bertarido’s indignant defiance, giving him a full characterization.

Composed: 1725
Premiered: 1725, London
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, after Antonio Salvi and Pierre Corneille


The kingdom of Lombardy was split between two brothers, Bertarido and Gundeberto, who then fought over the inheritance. Gundeberto called upon Duke Grimoaldo to help him, offering his sister Eduige’s hand in return. Gundeberto met his death, probably through Grimoaldo’s doing. Grimoaldo, while betrothed to Eduige, fell in love with Bertarido’s wife, Rodelinda, and seized the Milanese throne. Bertarido fled to Hungary, spreading the news of his death.

Act I

As Rodelinda weeps for Bertarido, Grimoaldo offers to marry her; she rejects him. Duke Garibaldo persuades Grimoaldo to break his engagement to Eduige. Garibaldo then proposes to Eduige himself. Garibaldo, when alone, reveals that he does not love Eduige but hopes to gain the throne. Bertarido has returned and is visiting his tomb. Unulfo, a courtier who has retained his loyalty to Bertarido, advises him to hide. Rodelinda and Flavio arrive, followed by Garibaldo, who threatens to kill Flavio unless Rodelinda marries Grimoaldo. She agrees, stipulating that her first act as queen will be to execute Garibaldo. Bertarido is dismayed at Rodelinda’s willingness to marry Grimoaldo.

Act II

Eduige agrees to marry Garibaldo. Rodelinda asks Grimoaldo to murder Flavio in front of her, as she cannot marry a usurper and be the mother of the rightful king. Garibaldo encourages Grimoaldo to do just this; both Unulfo and Grimoaldo are horrified by the idea. As Bertarido laments his fate, Eduige hears him and is reunited with her brother. Bertarido admits that he is not interested in the throne and only wishes to be with his family; this pleases Eduige, who still hopes for power. Unulfo arrives and reassures Bertarido of Rodelinda’s continuing fidelity; he then brings her to him and the lovers are reunited. Grimoaldo finds them together and declares that he will kill Bertarido.


Eduige, remorseful for coveting the throne, gives Unulfo the key to a secret passage through which Bertarido can escape. Garibaldo tries to persuade Grimoaldo to kill Bertarido. In the dungeon, Bertarido is thrown a sword. He uses it to attack the intruder, who turns out to be Unulfo. They hear footsteps approaching and exit, leaving behind a bloodied cloak. Eduige, Rodelinda and Flavio enter, find the garment and believe Bertarido to be dead....

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