mon 22/07/2024

Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival Opera | reviews, news & interviews

Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Still teething, this latest Handel production should grow into a mature hit

Schooldays take a St Trinian's turn in Robert Carsen's handsBill Cooper

Each Handel opera (or the good ones at any rate) has its own musical colour and character.

The woody husk of viola d’amore and low oboes bring pastoral calm to the frenzies of Orlando, bassoons lurk with doubt under the glossy strings of Ariodante. Rinaldo, the opera which announced Handel’s arrival on the London stage, glitters with the bright tints of brass and high woodwind, with even soft-toned recorders reworked as the metallic brilliancy of an obbligato piccolo.

It’s triumphal stuff, musically as unsubtle as its psychology, but this is the very joy of it. The human complexities of Alcina and Orlando are still far in the distance (even the emotive “Lascia ch’io pianga” is a manipulative escape attempt on the part of Almirena), and this pageant of lovely tunes and stock characters fills a summer evening with artful delight.

300BC201106270863In Carsen’s daydream vision, Christian knight Rinaldo finds himself a schoolboy geek, carefully pasting a photo of his beloved Almirena (all specs and plaits) under the lid of his desk. Fantasising his way out of teasing and torment, he and his schoolmates are transformed into warriors, facing off against the evil Saracens (teachers) led by sorceress Armida and her consort Argante. Familiar school spaces, gym, dormitory, playground, become their theatre of war, and Armida’s Furies are revealed as what else but St Trinian’s-inspired schoolgirls.

The slightly laborious transpositions of the opening relax as we proceed, and by the time bicycles are rearing and pawing like horses and a final battle is reworked as a football match (globe as ball), Carsen has his audience exactly where he wants them, squealing with delight over each new visual gag and practically expiring at the giddy comedy of a cross-dressing episode.

300BC201106271168All didn’t go entirely to plan on opening night however; a power cut extinguished Rinaldo’s beautiful lament “Cara sposa” midway, breaking the tension Sonia Prina had worked so hard to draw out of the scenario, and the spectacular exit we’d been promised after “Venti turbini” failed to materialise. Yet all this was nothing to the problems plaguing pit and stage ensemble.

After an overture that pulsed and swaggered with quality, Ottavio Dantone and The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment seemed to lose their way. Juddering with the lack of synchronicity, orchestra and soloists elbowed their way through the doorway of each cadence, scrambling inelegantly to arrive together. With so many arias demanding exposed unison between soloist and accompanying melody instrument any deviation is fatal, and so it proved here.

300BC201106270093Whether it was Dantone’s swift speeds and bizarrely irrational tempo relationships, a lack of listening from the singers (Prina was particularly guilty, rushing her coloratura and dragging after every breath), or challenging direction that caused the issue is unclear, but the result was a seasick first half that needed a good few days in the rehearsal room to settle.

There’s no denying Prina’s technical solidity, the articulated precision of her coloratura and her projected lower register will keep her in roles as long as they last, but I still struggle to take pleasure in her voice. Its rough-and-tumble colours, though peculiarly suited here to an adolescent boy, too often seem pushed. Varduhi Abrahamyan’s Goffredo may have been slighter, but her rounded tone made for a much more attractive, if less dynamic, listening experience.

300BC201106270663A late substitute for Sandrine Piau, Anett Fritsch was a solid Almirena, though outshone for vocal promise by Brenda Rae’s Armida (pictured above with Pisaroni). Rae shows all the signs of a really outstanding voice in the making, and while there are still some uneven moments, her sorceress was a worthy match for Luca Pisaroni’s Argante.

Singing everyone else into the shadows in Act I, Pisaroni’s easy stage presence (not aided by some contrived direction) and sooty tones recalled his previous Glyndebourne star turn as Leporello. Mention must also be made of Tim Mead’s Eustazio (pictured above). Focused of tone and displaying the musicianship so lacking elsewhere, his curtain-call cheers were well deserved.

With classic productions of Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda, Glyndebourne have established themselves as the go-to company for Handel opera. While Carsen’s Rinaldo still has its adolescent growing pains to face, it has the makings of a challenger to these mature productions. As the run progresses musical issues will settle, and I imagine the resulting clarity will reveal in Rinaldo another triumph, no less significant for being joyously silly.

Carsen has his audience exactly where he wants them, squealing with delight over each new visual gag

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Every other review of this opera that I have read is saying wonderful/marvellous/fabulous/the OAE in stunning form. However I totally agree with your reviewer and maybe we are alone in thinking that soloists and orchestra seemed to be in a race to the finishing line at almost every cadence. Could be that the speeds were too fast and pushed the coloratura, or maybe stylish Dantone's languid hand movements didn't give enough away. Great fun but a bit of a muddle!

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