by George Frideric Handel
- In Italian with projected English translations.
- Approximate Running Time: 3 hours, 27 minutes
Superhuman vocalism in a miraculous show: It’s magic!
George Frederic Handel
With Jerusalem as the prize, General Goffredo and his chief knight Rinaldo are battling it out with King Argante. But the king’s lover and ally is the sorceress Armida — and she uses every trick in her arsenal to help win the war. Good thing Rinaldo has some supernatural reinforcements of his own!
Handel wanted to make it big in England, and he did it in spades with Rinaldo! For the first time he specified sorcery and magic in the plot — hiring an illustrious producer to bring it off, and booking a megastar for the lead.
Three hundred years later, Lyric follows suit! Fabulous David Daniels headlines this amazing new production.
Handel’s music demands charismatic virtuoso singers — and here they are:
David Daniels is the world’s top countertenor. “Few singers sound as poignantly natural…” Daniels is a wonder, with “a warm, virile voice of enormous expressivity.” The New York Times
As Armida, Elza van den Heever offers “astonishing performances filled with emotional conviction and originality.” Financial Times, London
Argante’s the role that made Samuel Ramey a star. Now, marvel at the phenomenal Luca Pisaroni’s “lightning vocal attack…nimble upper range…and ringing vivacity.” Opera News
As Rinaldo’s inamorata, you’ll love Julia Kleiter, the young German soprano who appears to rave reviews with major conductors, including Riccardo Muti!
New Lyric Opera production generously made possible by Katherine A. Abelson and Robert J. Cornell, an Anonymous Donor, Margot and Josef Lakonishok, and Helen and Sam Zell.
On the Record
Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these recorded performances.
*= modern instruments
** = original instruments
**Daniels, Bartoli, Orgonasova, Fink, Finley; Academy of Ancient Music, Hogwood (Decca)
**Genaux, Persson, Kalna, Zazzo, Rutherford; Freiburger Barockorchester, Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi)
*Horne, Valente, Rogers, Alexander, Ramey; National Arts Center (Ottawa), cond. Bernardi (Ponto)
**Watkinson, Cotrubas, Scovotti, Esswood, Brett, Cold; La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy, cond. Malgoire (Sony)
*Daniels, York, Nadelmann, Walker, Köhler, Silins; Bavarian State Orchestra, cond. Bicket, dir. D. Alden (Kultur)
by Donald Burrows, Oxford University Press, 2001. Scholarly account with many details about alternate versions and discrepancies in sources. As a biography, less reader-friendly than Christopher Hogwood’s 2007 book by the same title, but alternates biographical chapters with chapters discussing music, which provide a lot of great additional information.
by Christopher Hogwood, Thames & Hudson, 2007. A readable, interesting biography by a musician who has conducted and performed Handel’s music for decades. Concludes with a chapter called “Handel and Posterity” that describes the decline of popularity and misinterpretation of Handel’s music during the 19th century and the gradual rediscovery of both the repertoire and Baroque performance practice during the 20th century.
Handel’s Operas, 1704-1726
by Winton Dean and John Merrill Knapp, Boydell Press, 2009. An exhaustively researched and beautifully organized examination of each of the first 17 of Handel’s operas. Includes plot synopses, information on Handel’s collaborators, and interesting but highly subjective opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of each opera and the various alternate versions that Handel adapted for revivals. Originally published in 1987 and reprinted when Dean’s subsequent volume on the remaining operas was released almost 20 years later.
Handel’s Operas, 1726-1741
by Winton Dean, Boydell Press 2010. Covers Handel’s last 22 operas with the same attention to detail as the preceding volume in the series.
Handel: The Man and His Music
by Jonathan Keates, Random House, 2009. Another quite interesting chronicle of Handel’s life by the author of a recently well-received biography of Purcell.
“It was written to show off voices, musical virtuosity, and stage machinery,” says Francisco Negrin, who will direct Lyric’s new production of Rinaldo this season. “Rinaldo is structured very much the way a commercial show is nowadays, with lots of excuses for flashy scene changes and fantastical creatures and all that.”
Negrin’s Rinaldo, Lyric’s first staged production of the work, has much to look at. For instance, there’s a huge serpentine wall (30 feet tall at one point) with individually lighted panels and there’s a supersized harpsichord. But beyond the scenery and spectacle, this Rinaldo features a cast of international stars that will make these performances long-remembered musical experiences for Lyric audiences. The always-brilliant countertenor David Daniels is Rinaldo. Making company debuts are two of the most captivating young sopranos on the international scene: Julia Kleiter as Almirena and Elza van den Heever as Armida. Also making company premieres are the dazzling mezzo-soprano Sonia Prina as Goffredo, the fast-rising countertenor Iestyn Davies as Eustazio, and the virtuosic bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni as Argante. Harry Bicket – who, like Daniels, was crucial to the success of last season’s Hercules – will conduct all performances. It’s a cast that Handel himself would love.
George Frideric Handel turned 26 on February 24, 1711, the day Rinaldo received its world premiere, and London audiences embraced the work and its composer immediately. It was the first Italian-language opera written specifically for them (by a German-born composer, no less!). Rinaldo was not Handel’s first opera, nor was it his first Italian opera. He had spent three years in Italy, absorbing the music and culture and writing more than 300 musical works. Among them was the opera Agrippina, which premiered successfully in Rome in 1709.
The 25-year-old composer had arrived in London the following year, and the timing of that career move could not have been better. Almost two decades earlier England’s greatest composer, Henry Purcell, had produced King Arthur (1691) and The Fairy Queen (1692). Purcell’s operas were popular enough, but they were hardly operas in the traditional Italian sense. Dido and Aeneas (1688) excepted, his efforts were basically English plays with added musical episodes. Nonetheless, Purcell achieved sainthood in English musical circles, influencing generations of English composers including the 20th-century’s Benjamin Britten and Pete Townshend of the rock supergroup The Who. But Purcell died at 36 in 1695, leaving England without a major musical voice and without a noteworthy opera composer. In the 15 years between Purcell’s death and Rinaldo’s premiere, Londoners fell under the spell of Italian opera.
Italy dominated opera the way 20th-century America dominated film (after all, the Italians invented the art form). London audiences craved Italian operas – works full of virtuosic vocal lines sung by the musical darlings of that time, the castrati. There were other forces at play here as well; in the words of British musicologist and author Percy M. Young, “Superimposed was snobbery, which assumed that what was presented unintelligibly in a foreign tongue must be a symbol of high cultivation.”
Snobbery and the social observations of Mr. Young aside, English composers could only approximate Italian opera. The local talents borrowed melodies of Italian composers and tossed together Italian and English singers, who would sing in their own languages in the same performance!
None of these cross-cultural efforts succeeded or endured, but Handel’s Rinaldo certainly has. Its genesis was not unlike that of a modern Broadway show. Aaron Hill, the 25-year-old manager of The Queen’s Theatre of London, wanted a new opera that would be a hit with English audiences. He lifted the story of the brave nobleman Rinaldo and the sorceress Armida from Torquato Tasso’s 1581 poem La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered). Knowing that visual spectacle was always good box office, he added fire-breathing dragons, some live birds, battles scenes, and military parades and pageantry. He also injected a couple of romantic attachments and concluded the story with a bow to prevailing bias by having the Saracen (Muslim) sorceress convert to Christianity.
Hill hired poet Giacomo Rossi to write the libretto and Handel to compose the music. The two, working like a Tin Pan Alley songwriting team, knocked out a finished opera in just two weeks. (For Rinaldo, Handel appropriated several numbers that he had written previously while in Italy.)
The first Rinaldo production was quite a show. Handel wanted to make a splash with the London audience and he did, both musically and theatrically. Live sparrows were released onstage, and copious amounts of smoke and fire punctuated the performance. Wrote one observer: “I have a very great friendship for the owner of this theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before he would let this opera be acted in it.”
To ensure success at the box office, major star power was enlisted. Nicolo Grimaldi (stage name: Nicolini) was hired for the title role. The famous castrato had appeared in numerous London concerts and had a following among Londoners who loved Italian music. Handel composed eight of the opera’s 27 arias specifically for him. The opera was an immediate hit, with praise lavished on Nicolini and Handel, who played harpsichord at that first performance.
“Like all operas of this period, the characters have to go through a series of trials and tribulations to become better versions of themselves,” says Negrin, who directed Handel’s Partenope at Lyric in 2002-03. “There are those who are quite evolved with little to learn, those with so much to learn that they don’t really manage it, and those somewhere in between – there’s a whole spectrum here.”
The story of Rinaldo takes place at the time of the first Crusade (1096-99). Goffredo, general of the Christian forces, engages the famous hero Rinaldo to lead the Christians against the Saracens who had captured the Holy Land. Goffredo promises Rinaldo the hand of his daughter Almirena when the walled city of Jerusalem is his.
The Christians conquer Palestine and lay siege to Jerusalem, where Argante is king. Armida, an Amazonian enchantress who is in love with Argante, traps Rinaldo in an enchanted castle. From there, the pheromones take over and Armida falls for the captive Rinaldo. Eventually he’s rescued by Goffredo and he returns to the army, conquers Jerusalem, converts Argante and Armida to Christianity, and marries Almirena.
“The characters are allegorical instead of psychological,” Negrin says. “You have characters that represent certain aspects of human nature instead of a character that’s out of an Ibsen play – a fully drawn individual. Nevertheless, the actions within the story have a lot of psychological traits. Rinaldo is a kind of fable or tall tale, but this kind of storytelling is not foreign to contemporary audiences. Look at the movies that have come out recently, from Avatar to Thor. Many of today’s films are allegorical and are fantasy based.”
Negrin’s creative team places this new production in an unspecified era, an invented time and place. Costumes are abstract; designer and frequent Negrin collaborator Louis Désiré sought inspiration from such movies as Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (starring Jane Fonda) and Terry Gilliam’s retro-futuristic classic Brazil.
“This piece, of course, presents some problems – for instance, the Crusades and the siege of Jerusalem,” says Negrin. “In the current atmosphere these subjects are very hard to deal with. So we’re making this production less historic. It will be much more fantasy-like, in the vein of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft movies.”
Rinaldo received more performances in Handel’s lifetime than any of his other operas (he wrote 42 in all). This will be Lyric’s first staged production of this 300-year-old masterpiece. When asked what a modern operagoer should take away from a performance of this Rinaldo, Negrin answered without hesitation. “I just want them to have fun!”