Skip to content

Rinaldo

by on 30 November 2019

A Gripping Handel with Lashings of Fun

Rinaldo

by George Frideric Handel, libretto by Giacomo Rossi after Torquato Tasso

Glyndebourne Opera, New Victoria Theatre, Woking until 29th November, then tour continues until 6th December.

Review by Mark Aspen

Testosterone on the rise, fantasies afire, esteem uncertain – the mind-set of the pubescent schoolboy – just the thing to rescue a concept from the disapprobation of twenty-first century moralists. Who in today’s brittle politico-religious world could mount an opera about hero crusaders triumphing against evil Saracens? Well, Glyndebourne can. In its revival of Robert Carsen’s reimagining of Handel’s 1711 extravaganza in the form of an Eagle comics gung-ho adventure, Glyndebourne triumphs in a magnificently self-deprecating romp. With Rinaldo the hero knight recast as a schoolboy, it cuts back to the idea that the heroic epic is all about seeking and finding one’s true worth.

RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; Chlo

Not only does the Glyndebourne production neatly sidestep any PC dilemma, but it also pushes it onto another level. Counter the schoolboy’s crushes and innocent puppy-love with a bit of lip-smacking sado-masochism and bondage and you get … a triumphant spoof that surprisingly succeeds. The story is told, nobody’s offended (well, not many) and you have broad humour that accrues all the erstwhile inconsistencies and improbabilities of the plot. And is Handel’s music lost? Not a jot, all the jaunty energy of the work is there and its moments of soaring beauty shine through.

RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; Chlo

When impresario Aaron Hill wanted to bring the new-fangled Italian opera to London, and to the Haymarket theatre which he managed, he decided to go to town and throw everything into the pot. It had to be a big spectacle, it had to have four counter-tenors, it had to be sung in Italian, everything that was expected from this new entertainment. He worked up a treatment of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, a sixteenth-century poem about the crusades, and commissioned Giacomo Rossi to write a libretto. For a composer he went to George Frideric Handel who had risen to outstanding fame in the court of Hanover as Kapellmeister to the Elector, Prince George, who three years later would become King George I. The production nearly bankrupted the Haymarket, but became a phenomenal success.

Rossi’s epic Rinaldo opens with Goffredo, leader of the crusaders rallying his knights to besiege Jerusalem. Carsen’s Rinaldo opens in schoolroom. During the broad and energetic overture we learn of the situation of our hero schoolboy. He is a “loner”, shy and not one of the gang, a prime target for bullying, and the whole class seems to do it. They particularly taunt him about his crush on a pupil of the nearby girl’s school, a pretty redhead. They even manage to drop him in it with the teachers, so that he gets punished for their misdemeanours. His escape is to daydream his way into Rossi’s heroic romance, as the eponymous Rinaldo, champion of the army of the First Crusade, besieging Jerusalem in 1099. His schoolgirl love interest becomes Almirena, daughter of Goffredo leader of the crusaders. Goffredo and his brother and fellow general Eustazio, appoint Rinaldo as the knight who will spearhead the attack on Jerusalem. Goffredo promises that Almirena will be Rinaldo’s bride when Jerusalem surrenders.

RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; Chlo

Jerusalem becomes the girl’s school, defended by a hoard of St Trinian’s schoolgirls as the Furies. Battlegrounds become the tennis courts and bike sheds. The bikes become the shining steeds of old(e). Gideon Davey’s design cleverly incorporates the scene-shifting daydream mind as battlegrounds transmogrify from desk-lined schoolrooms (schools that seemed a little too pristine from my own memory, but maybe schools have smartened up over x!? decades).

RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; Chlo

Jake Arditti is well cast in the title role, with just the right look of the hesitant adolescent. Arditti’s countertenor has a sensitivity that works well to express the teenager’s inner conflicts, and he is a great actor. His aria lamenting the abduction of his darling betrothed, cara sposa, amante cara, is very touching. Equally well cast is Anna Devin, who portrays Almirena’s innocence with a heartbreaking delicacy. What adolescent schoolboy (of any age) would not be infatuated with her? Her lyrical soprano excels in the well-known lascia ch’io pianga, let me weep.

RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; Chlo

But what does Almirena have to weep about? She has been abducted on behalf of King Argante, the enemy Saracen leader. But worse still, Argante has fallen in love with her! Aubrey Allicock (repping with his role Monterone in Rigoletto) brings gravitas to the role of Argante and an impressively sonorous bass-baritone voice.

RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; ChloArgante though has an ally, Armida, the Queen of Damascus, who is his mistress. She is a powerful shape-shifting sorceress. It is she who abducted Almirena, and she who keeps the Furies (the St Trinian’s goths). It is her Sirens (sopranos Chloe Morgan and Lesley Davis) who lure the hapless Rinaldo away from his quest to free his beloved Almirena. But now, in spite of herself, Armida has fallen in love with the young and handsome Rinaldo. American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker steals the show as a femme fatale par excellence. Revival director Francesca Gilpin has re-envisaged Armida as a latex-clad dominatrix, a Miss Whiplash schoolboy’s wet-dream and Stucker savours it as a gift of a role. She gives real oomph to the part in arias such as vo’ far guerra, e vincer voglio, (I want to make war, and I want to win), giving full vent to her spinto soprano as she vents her rage on RINALDO – GLYNDEBOURNE TOUR 2019, Sorceress Armida; Jacquelyn Stucker, Almirena; Anna Devin, Rinaldo; Jake Arditti, Saracen King Argante; Aubrey Allicock, Goffredo; James Hall, Christian Magician; William Towers, Women; Catriona Hewitson, Siren 1; Chlothe cowering St Trinian’s goths, flogging the Furies, when she discovers Argante’s designs on Almirena. In contrast, almost immediately before this she has sung the wonderfully lyrical ah! crudel, il pianto mio, ti mova per pietà! (o cruel one, may my tears move you to pity), as Rinaldo rebuffs her advances. Silly boy, why didn’t he just lie back and think of England? But, hold on, don’t Argante and Armida look rather like the more draconian teachers in the boy’s school?

Rinaldo is a real festival of countertenor virtuosity. As well as the eponymous role of Rinaldo, there is Goffredo, the crusader general, a role to which James Hall’s vigourous voice lends authority and magnanimity. He has (almost) the final say in Goffredo’s aria of reconciliation, sorge nel petto certo diletto (swells in my breast a certain delight). Hall makes the most of its exuberant rhythm. The battle has been won with the help of A Christian Magician, here a wild-eyed and wild-haired chemistry master, played with relish by William Towers, who rushes around the chemi-lab igniting a plethora of pyrotechnics. Andate, oh forti, go you strong ones, he sings, the deus ex machina with a Bunsen burner.  The fourth countertenor, Tom Scott-Cowell also has great fun as Eustazio, a more cautious commander. Sulla ruota di fortuna và girando la speranza, he warns, hope goes spinning on the wheel of fortune. The metaphor of this aria couldn’t be more pertinent, for as the leader of the cavalry, Eustazio in the school setting is obviously the one who maintains the bicycles.

However, in the production, the one with his hands firmly on the Handel bars is conductor David Bates, clearly enjoying the spirited score with the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra configured in its Baroque splendour, including a recorder section, fanfare trumpets, and a the very striking presence of the archlute (with the theorbo, one of the big brothers of the Baroque orchestra) played with redoubtable skill by continuo principal, David Miller.

In the end, Rinaldo has found his destiny, and his schoolboy alto ego has found his self-confidence. Bad has been vanquished by good, but everyone becomes reconciled and all promises (maybe) to be happy-ever-after. In the theatre, both the Glyndebourne company and the appreciative audience have enjoyed the wrapping of huge fun around this superb piece of Baroque artistry. Originally created for Glyndebourne in 2011 by Robert Carsen to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of Rinaldo’s first performance, this is clearly a production that continues to amaze and entertain audiences. It is definitely a Handel to hold on to!

Mark Aspen
November 2019

Photography © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. by Bill Cooper

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: