Robert Carsen's staging of Handel's Rinaldo, new at Glyndebourne this summer, presented the opera as the daydream of a bullied schoolboy who imagines himself as the crusader and his tormentors as the Saracens. Perhaps it made sense at Glyndebourne, but it made precious little here, semi-staged by Bruno Ravella without the benefit of sets but with ample cardboard in the characterisation.
There is a madonna, Rinaldo's drippy girlfriend Almirena, and a whore, the sorceress Armida, who gives Rinaldo a good caning before shedding her teacher's gown to reveal a PVC number that Glyndebourne must have ordered from a very special Soho shop. Her attendants are St Trinian's harridans. If you accept that everything is in the mind of a barely pubescent schoolboy, perhaps this works.
The cliches wouldn't matter so much if the staging didn't so seriously undercut the music. However emotionally charged Sonia Prina's singing in the hero's aria Cara Sposa, and however beautiful Anett Fritsch sounded in Almirena's Lascia Ch'io Pianga, it was impossible to buy into the arias' sudden sincerity. The third act worked better; it doesn't pause for much contemplation on the way to the final confrontation, here an ingenious slo-mo football match.
The rewards were musical. Fritsch's soprano and Tim Mead's firm countertenor as Eustazio came across especially well, and there was fine singing, too, from Prina's Rinaldo, Luca Pisaroni's Argante, Varduhi Abrahamyan's Goffredo and William Towers's cameo as a battily bewigged science teacher. And I would like to hear soprano Brenda Rae again, even if her Armida here sounded less malign than she looked.
Directed by Ottavio Dantone, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brought the score to life. But those who prefer the surging phrases favoured by Christie or Gardiner might have found it a bit tasteful – the music, at least.
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