Tag Archives: Joshua Hopkins

Surprisingly enjoyable Rinaldo

10 Aug

It’s funny how shows which I didn’t like much first time round can seem better at the revival.  Glyndebourne’s decision to cast all the castrato roles in Rinaldo with counter tenors and Iestyn Davies in the title role was enough to make me decide to go, despite the fact that I’d really disliked Robert Carsen’s production when it was new in 2011.  At the first night of this revival, very capably rehearsed by Bruno Ravella, on 9th August, with no expectations of enjoyment, it didn’t seem so bad and I even found myself moderately enjoying it.

Rinaldo is an opera about spectacle.  It doesn’t have the same depth of emotion as Handel’s later operas, despite having some of his finest arias.  Most of those, in fact, were recycled (nothing particularly wrong with that, when they are so good) and you sense a plot built around them and around opportunities for dragons, furies, sirens and spectacular sets.  I can sort of see why Robert Carsen liked the idea of it as a schoolboy’s fantasy about the crusades.  And, on its own terms, it’s slick, witty and has some good moments – Rinaldo flying on a bicycle on his rescue mission and the Magus’s mad chemistry laboratory and a very funny football match.  I still think that the opera needs more colour – it looks all a bit beige and cheap.  Perhaps it suffered from being new in the same season that they did Meistersinger.  But, perhaps because I had an idea of what to expect, I found myself enjoying myself without the irritation that I remembered from the first time round.

Perhaps the new cast helped.  Iestyn Davies is on fabulous form at the moment and his performance of Rinaldo was even better than his Bertarido at ENO – singing Venti Turbini from a bike high above the stage can be no fun, but he managed it was aplomb and real excitement.  He was moving in the previous aria lamenting the absence of Almirena and throughout sang with passion, style and fervour.  I’m quite sure I wasn’t the only one buying his latest CD of Handel oratorio arias (it’s excellent).  I very much enjoyed his slightly bemused heroism.  It’s great that he’ll be back here for Saul next year.

The difference in timbres and types of counter tenors was strongly on display here.  Tim Mead was in excellent voice as Goffredo – a strong, virile sound that suggested that he wouldn’t make a bad Rinaldo himself.  Anthony Roth Costanza has a much lighter voice, not unsuitable for Eustazio and sang his arias well.  James Laing was splendid as the Magus.  With singing of this sort, I wonder how far we need to have mezzos in these roles any more.  Mind you, I wouldn’t mind hearing Sarah Connolly do Rinaldo, either…

The women were good too.  Karina Gauven was a fiery, vicious Armida who did her aria at the end of Act II splendidly and was properly villainous.  Christina Landshamer was an attractive Almirena who did her Act II aria, Lascia que piange, really beautifully.  I’m really not sure that giving her pigtails and glasses helps the character or anything else, really.  Joshua Hopkins showed you why singers such as Finley and Pisaroni have been cast as Argante – there are some really splendid arias, far above the quality of most of Handel’s bass arias, and he sang them really well, entering nicely into the production.  I think we’ll be hearing quite a lot more of him.

So there wasn’t a weak link in the cast, Ottavio Dantone’s conducting was vigorous, fleet and stylish and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was on excellent form.  Musically alone this was an evening of huge pleasure and one felt a certain indulgence towards the production.  If you’re a fan of really good Handel singing, it’s well worth trying to get hold of a ticket.