I’ve just finished watching George Frideric Handel’s opera,
“Rinaldo,” on DVD. It was taken from a live performance at the
Prinzregententheater in Munich, and released in 2003. “Rinaldo”
was Handel’s first opera written for the London stage, and the
February 1711 premiere performance was given at the Queen’s
Theatre in the Haymarket. Handel (1685-1759) wrote this work
very quickly. In fact, much of the music was borrowed from some
of the other works he’d written while in Italy, from 1706 to 1710.
One example would be the lengthy opera, “Agrippina,” from 1709.
The practice of “borrowing” was quite common at that time.
One hundred years later, Giacomo Rossini (1792-1868) would do
the same thing with his operas.
Despite the fact that Handel was only 25-years old when he
wrote “Rinaldo,” it is still considered to be one of his greatest
operas. While watching this performance, it was clear to me
that this work contained a wealth of beautiful music, and not just
for the singers! The orchestra had many opportunities to shine,
including virtuosic passages for the sopranino recorder and the violin.
Under the baton of Harry Bicket, the members of the Bavarian
State Orchestra played superlatively.
The cast included four countertenor roles, all of which were
sung well; however, David Daniels was particularly outstanding
in the title role. Still, when considering the 30-plus operas
in Handel’s oeuvre, we should note that “Rinaldo” was written
during the age of the castrati. Based upon their reputed
musicianship, breath control and technique, we can only speculate
that modern countertenors are poor substitutes for the
highest-caliber castrati. As an operatic breed, they flourished
throughout the 18th Century and with few exceptions, were
extinct by the early 19th Century. Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)
was supposedly the last noted composer to write a part for
a castrati. The two sopranos in this production were Deborah York
and Noëmi Nadelmann in the roles of Almirena and Armida,
respectively. They were both fantastic. In fact, all of the singers
were quite good!
My problem was with the production. I’m not averse to
intelligently conceived, modern productions of older works, but
this one was difficult to fathom. During the accompanying 55-minute
bonus feature film entitled, “Handel: The Entertainer,” it would
have been helpful had the stage director, David Alden, explained
the concept behind Paul Steinberg’s set design. The original setting
of “Rinaldo” was during the First Crusade in 1099; therefore any
clarifying discussion would have been greatly appreciated,
especially in light of the production’s running time of two hours
and 45 minutes. Nevertheless, the bonus film was helpful, and
I’d recommend watching it prior to the actual opera. In a
nutshell, this production of “Rinaldo” was easy on my ears,
but hard on my eyes. Unfortunately, it may be the only performance
available on DVD.