This film provides the most fun that you could ever hope to have watching a Handel opera. It also presents a continuous flow of show-stopping arias, sung by a top-quality cast. It is difficult to make an opera such as Rinaldo relevant to the new millennium. The director has to create a modern equivalent of the spectacle and excitement that accompanied the piece at its premiere in 1711. David Alden, the stage director of this production from Munich, accomplishes this brilliantly. This is a pleasant surprise to me in view of the fact that I slated his 1996 Ariodante for being traditional and unimaginative . The portents are not good as the curtain rises on a suburban living room with garish wallpaper, orange sofa and, inexplicably, a small pink tent. The cast, in modern dress are lounging around smoking cigarettes. But I need not worry; this production is as camp as a field full of pink tents. A quick look at the synopsis tells me that the loungers are, in fact, Christian crusaders who have come to Jerusalem to fight the Saracen King Argante. He is assisted by a woman in an attractive green cocktail dress who turns out to be the sorceress Armida.
The first act is something of a countertenor-fest, with no fewer than four swarthy and disconcertingly high-pitched men on stage. Readers of my opera reviews will know that I am no lover of countertenors. I prefer attractive contraltos in trousers singing the castrato roles, but the sheer beauty of these four voices eventually won me over and I was able uncross my legs and watch through the gaps between my fingers. David Daniels, in particular, gives a ravishing account of the title role of Rinaldo.
Noemi Nadelmann has a fine soprano voice and performs with gusto, particularly when riding a dragon. The stratospheric arias are given to Alimirena, Rinaldo's betrothed, who is abducted by Armida. Deborah York performs these beautifully, particularly Lascia ch'io pianga (let me weep) the opera's best-known aria. The two soprano voices go well together, particularly in the scene where the witch and the heroine exchange bodies. (Didn't Buffy the Vampire Slayer do that?). Egils Sinins, as Argante, has a sonorous voice which is particularly noticeable because he is the only member of the cast to make use of the bass clef. The Munich audience love every minute sounding as enthusiastic as an audience at La Scala or the Met. The biggest roar of approval comes for a stage effect that is stunningly simple. The battle between the Christians and Saracens is represented by a row of plaster statues placed across the entire length of the stage. A casual flick from Rinaldo causes them to topple like a row of dominos.
When Almirena tries to escape from Armida, she is confronted by a 20ft high plastic Bob the Builder who promptly drops his trousers and flashes at her. I do not understand the significance of this. Maybe it is David Alden's riposte to critics like me suggesting that he has a problem directing Handel: 'Can he fix it? Yes he can.'
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