Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 22nd October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

Antonin Dvořák: The Cunning Peasant (Šelma Sedlák)

What an enjoyable opportunity to encounter Dvořák’s sixth opera, Šelma Sedlák¸or The Cunning Peasant!

Idomeneo, Royal Opera

Whether biblical parable or mythological moralising, it’s all the same really: human hubris, humility, sacrifice and redemption.

Donizetti’s Les Martyrs — Opera Rara, London

Opera Rara brought a rare performance of Donizetti’s first opera for the Paris Opera to the Royal Festival Hall on 4 November 2014, following recording sessions for the opera.

Luca Pisaroni in San Diego

Bass baritone, Luca Pisaroni, known to opera lovers throughout the world for his excellence in Mozart roles, offered San Diego vocal aficionados a double treat on October 28th: his mellifluous voice, and a recital of German songs.

La bohème, ENO

Jonathan Miller’s production of La bohème for ENO, shared with Cincinnati Opera, sits uneasily, at least as revived by Natascha Metherell, between comedy and tragedy.

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall - Liszt, Strauss and Schubert

Any Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau performance is superb, but this Wigmore Hall recital surprised, too. Boesch's Schubert is wonderful, but this time, it was his Liszt and Strauss songs which stood out. This year at the Wigmore Hall, we've heard a lot of Liszt and a lot of Richard Strauss everywhere, establishing high standards, but this was special.

Wexford Festival 2014

The weather was auspicious for Wexford Festival Opera’s first-night firework display — mild, clear and calm. But, as the rainbow rockets exploded over the River Slaney, even bigger bangs were being made down at the quayside.

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Brenda Rae as Armida and Luca Pisaroni as Argante. [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2011]
13 Jul 2011

Rinaldo at Glyndebourne

Handel’s Rinaldo at the Glyndebourne Festival is a triumph in musical terms. Don’t miss it when it appears at the BBC Proms this summer in concert performance, because some of the singing is very good indeed.

G F Handel: Rinaldo

Rinaldo: Sonia Prina, Goffredo: Varduhi Abrahamyan, Eustazio: Tim Mead, Almirena: Anett Fritsch/Miriam Khalil (9th July), Armida: Brenda Rae, Argante: Luca Pisaroni., Mago: William Towers, Conductor: Ottavio Dantone, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Director: Robert Carsen, Designer: Gideon Davey, Lighting: Peter Van Praet, Movement: Philipe Girardeau, Dramaturg: Ian Burton. Glyndebourne Festival, Lewes, Sussex.

Above: Brenda Rae as Armida and Luca Pisaroni as Argante.

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2011.

 

The catch is that the staging is bizarre. Baroque is, by nature, bizarre and “fantastikal” to use antique terminology. Baroque audiences went to the opera to be stunned by spectacular feats and outrageous plots. Rinaldo has inherent dramatic promise — malevolent magic, beauties and heroes, exotic strangers, sex, battlefields and scene changes so extreme that they couldn’t be done literally, especially given the limits of baroque stage production. In many ways, baroque audiences had greater tolerance for fantasy than we do now.

Rinaldo is set in the Crusades but has nothing to do with history, religion or even common sense. By removing the hero Rinaldo, the defenders of Jerusalem think they can end the war. So Almira magics him off to an enchanted island, far from the deserts around Jerusalem. Strange Realpolitik. Goffredo and other Christians rescue him and all ends well.

So why the literal staging in this new production directed by Robert Carsen, designed by Gideon Davey? It predicates on the notion that Rinaldo is a schoolboy in a boarding school, who gets bullied by his classmates and caned by his teachers. Indeed, caning recurs frequently in this production, which does make one wonder. The schoolboy concept is largely irrelevant to the very adult, sophisticated nature of Handel’s narrative, and feels forced and infantile.

The sirens don’t need to be coy schoolgirls, and the sight of Almirena in a maxi skirt gymslip is just absurd. The best images would work fine without any schoolboy silliness. For example, Rinaldo and his friends march off not on horses but on bicycles, Rinaldo suspended in the air on high wires. Had they been dressed as warriors, the irony would have been even more pointedly irreverent.

Although Rinaldo is funny, its deeper levels would not have been lost on baroque audiences. Handel, through Torquato Tasso, is also obliquely mocking the futility of war and power games. If even Almira the dominatrix Queen can make up with ferocious philanderer Argante, there’s hope for all.

Ottavio Dantone conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment, one of the finest specialist period instrument orchestras in the world. Extremely high playing standards, though I would have liked Dantone to have injected more punch overall, though the Battaglia was vivid. Handel’s instrumentation is lively and inventive. Harpsichord, not only as continuo but as a quirky voice in itself, and in this acoustic, assertively clear. Good growling percussion and brass for thunder and battle. I was so intrigued by the bird-like instrumentation around Almirena’s “Augelletti, che cantate”, that I went up to the pit at the interval to check what it was.The musician wasn’t there but other members of the orchestra were enthusiastic. “It’s a sopranino”, someone said. “Not a flute, not a recorder”.

300cbc201106270574.gifBrenda Rae as Armida with Glyndebourne Chorus and dancers

Sonia Prina sang Rinaldo. She’s a very experienced Handel singer, so the production was perhaps designed around her, much as the recent Glyndebourne Die Meistersinger von von Nürnberg reviewed here, may have been created to enhance Gerald Finley’s voice. She and director Carsen have worked together before. Prina’s short, compact and sassy, so looks convincing as a schoolboy, Hers isn’t a transcendentally glowing Rinaldo but she has stamina. In “Cara Sposa”, she stretched the long vowels sturdily.

As Armida as Dominatrix, Brenda Rae looked the part in tight black rubber and vertiginous stilettos. The characterization made an asset of the sharpness at her top, but attention should be on the singing, not the fetish.

300cbc201106270869.gifSonia Prina as Rinaldo and Brenda Rae as Armida

Argante can be a relatively small part, but Luca Pisaroni made it central, by the sheer force of personality in his singing. His voice has great depth and range and is used intelligently. Pisaroni understands the purpose of the elaborate ornamentations Handel wants in the part. When he sings “Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto”, his variations are richly roccoco, emphasizing Argante’s status as ruler, and the complexity of his character. Thus, when Argante is humbled by his feelings for Almirena, Pisaroni’s voice becomes gracious and tender. Pisaroni doesn’t sing when he’s strung up by Armida, but his body language conveys feeling, twitching with anguish, even though his face is hidden. Restored, he becomes the virile, dignified leader he was before, as Pisaroni’s firm, well modulated singing in the Act 3 duet demonstrates. This Argante is more than a match for Armida. (Please read the interview he gave Opera Today here).

Varduhi Abrahamyan sang Goffredo. Being an admirer of countertenors, I was delighted by William Tower’s Mago and Tim Mead’s Eustazio.

Perhaps there’s a much better production inside this Glyndebourne Rinaldo, waiting, like the eponymous hero, to be set free. Handel’s music is inherently dramatic, so the concert performance planned for the BBC Proms on 25th August will be a much better opportunity to appreciate this production. It’s being broadcast live, online, on demand and internationally. A DVD is also planned, and the filming may reshape the staging so it comes over more effectively, enhancing the musical values oif this production.

For more information, read the Glyndebourne Festival site and the BBC Proms site.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):