Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

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):