Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

Billed as the ‘First British Performance’ - though it had had a prior, quasi-private outing at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe in July - Opera della Luna’s production of Johann Strauss Jnr’s The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief (Das Spitzentuch der Königin) at Wilton’s Music Hall began to sound pretty familiar half-way through the overture (which was played with spark and elegance by conductor Toby Purser’s twelve-piece orchestra).

Glyndebourne perform La clemenza di Tito at the Proms

The advantage of Glyndebourne Opera’s performances at the BBC Proms is that they give us a chance to concentrate on the music making. And there was plenty of high-quality music-making on offer at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 28 August 2017 when Glyndebourne Opera performed Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito.

Rossini’s Torvaldo e Dorliska in Pesaro

The rare and somewhat interesting Rossini! Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815) comes just after Elisabetta, Regina di Ingleterra (the first of his nineteen operas for Naples) — a huge success, and just before Il barbiere di Siviglia in Rome — a failure.

Jakub Hrůša : Bohemian Reformation Prom

At Prom 56, Jakub Hrůša conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme on the theme of the Hussite Wars and their place in Bohemian culture showing how the Hussite hymn was incorporated into music by Smetana, Martinů, Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk.

Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival

South African actor, artist, multimedia artist, film and theater, now opera director William Kentridge has taken the world by storm over the past few years. In my experience The Magic Flute in Brussels, The Return of Ulysses (puppets) in San Francisco, The Nose in Aix, Lulu at the Met, Die Winterreise and his “One Man Show” in Aix. And now Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival.

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):