David Alden's audacious 2001 staging of Handel's "Rinaldo" brings the complex struggle between the Crusaders and the Saracens to vivid life, as he creates a surreal, out-of-proportion, pop-art world and builds the story off of a series of burlesque acts. For those unwilling to be open-minded and desperate to cling to a linear narrative complete with stodgy costumes, this is definitely not the one to watch (see some of the reviews below for confirmation of this myopic perspective). I imagine the flood of visual references in "Rinaldo" could be overwhelming for a one-time viewing experience. But that is certainly the beauty of DVD...the back arrow button can be your best friend, and repeated viewings enrich your experience of the production. As someone with a taste for the absurd, I think Alden's approach is insanely creative, but it still has a core of humanity around the legend that makes the whole production resonate. The sets and props are so much fun to watch and absorb that it bears use of the pause button intermittently.
The music is beautiful, classic Handel. Front and center is countertenor David Daniels, whose singing is impeccable throughout. His rendition of "Cara Sposa, Amante Cara, Dove Sei?" in Act I, is particularly moving. Dressed in a Dick Tracy-type suit for most of the opera, he also proves to be a deft comic actor willing to upend his romanticized hero mercilessly. This is a marked contrast to the heavily dramatic role of the martyred soldier he played in Handel's "Theodora" (also strongly recommended). The overall sound and picture transfer on the DVD is excellent. A nice extra is the accompanying one-hour documentary, "Handel the Entertainer", a helpful primer for those who want to understand not only the genesis of this production but also the history of the composer's music.
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