Like Christopher Alden's recent ENO production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Robert Carsen's new Glyndebourne staging of Handel's Rinaldo is set in a school. Carsen, the master of cool directorial chic, refashions Handel's take on Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata as a gung-ho fantasy pitched between Harry Potter and a Boy's Own yarn.

Rinaldo (Sonia Prina) is a bullied schoolboy who, during the course of a history lesson on the First Crusade, imagines himself as a warrior knight, and sets off to rescue his girlfriend Almirena (Anett Fritsch) from wicked teachers Argante (Luca Pisaroni) and Armida (Brenda Rae), whom he identifies with the Saracen leaders. Armida's Furies are a gang of St Trinian's ladettes armed with lacrosse sticks.

It's entertaining, if glib. There's no real attempt to confront the implications of a work that never questions its own Orientalist assumptions. Written at great speed in 1711, the score has tremendous sincerity, but is short on psychological depth. Carsen, however, confuses lack of subtlety with immaturity, and his concept gets in the way of the big emotional outpourings when they come.

It's well sung, though Rae, sashaying about in skin-tight rubber, hasn't got the vocal clout for it. Prina, whose coloratura is phenomenal, gives a real star turn, while Pisaroni manages to make Argante a more sympathetic figure than Handel envisioned. There's fine, sensual conducting from Ottavio Dantone, too.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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