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Handel - Rinaldo

Royal Academy Opera

18 and 19 May 2006


Rinaldo – Christopher Field / Katherine Allan

Armida – Michelle Minke / Claire Watkins

Almirena – Fflur Wyn / Julia Sporsen

Eustazio – Jurgita Adamonyte / Caryl Hughes

Goffredo – Viktor Rud / Thorbjorn Gulbrandsoy

Sirena – Louise Deans / Anna Graca

Argante – Adam Miller / George von Bergen

Mago – Ronald Nairne / Piotr Lempa


Modern instrument Baroque Orchestra directed from the harpsichord by Anthony Legge

Producer – John Ramster

Costumes – Paula Patterson

Lighting – Jake Wiltshire

Choreographer – Victoria Newlyn

An opera performance in the summer term is an innovation for the Royal Academy of Music and not one that has been easy to slot into the busy timetable, as they have been determined to allow as many students as possible to share the experience by having two completely different casts.

Rinaldo has a most ambitious plot with a sorceress and a magician in a cast augmented by a garden of singing birds, sea sirens, a chariot drawn by dragons, scenery that changes at the wave of a magic wand, an arsenal of dramatic effects, which culminates in an on-stage battle between rival armies.

Pressure on time and resources really concentrates the mind, and what RAM have come up with is a drastically condensed version (less than half of the original three hours and a quarter), which retains the best music and focuses sharply on the characters in the story.

John Ramster and Paula Patterson's production is ideal; pools of light on a darkened stage reveal just as much of the magic landscape as the story requires and a circular aperture in a black backdrop is our eye into still more mysterious regions. A bevy of scarlet wigged Evil Spirits cluster around the white uniformed heroes, there are colourful and imaginative costumes for the ladies, and Mago the magician is enigmatically resplendent in a blue loin cloth and turquoise wig.

Handel had been in a hurry to get the opera ready and much of the music is recycled from his earlier works, without any strongly cohesive element. So it lends itself readily to curtailment and good, clear surtitles meant that the audience kept pace with swiftly moving action. Just in the recitatives I had a feeling that the acceleration resulted in a measure of stylistic loss.

I saw the “first” cast, and very good they were – with each of the principals delivering their big arias with success. Jurgita Adamonyte (Eustazio) - winner of the Opera Rara Bel Canto Prize - was outstanding, giving a superb all round performance, counter-tenor Christopher Field (Rinaldo) found real sweetness of tone, Michelle Minke was a feisty Armida, producing some fine coloratura summoning up the Furies in Ah! Crudel, il pianto mio, deh! and Fflur Wyn gave a confident account of the well known Lascia ch'io pianga.

Under Anthony Legge's sensitive direction the small orchestra sounded authentically baroque, and spontaneous applause quite deservedly greeted lead trumpeter David Hopkin's fine contribution to the battle scene on stage.

Serena Fenwick

In the alternate cast Anna Craca was duly seductive as the evil spirit Sirena, the diminutive Katherine Allen winning as the military hero Rinaldo, Claire Watkins sang well as "his" lover Almirena but she was handicapped by an unflattering costume. Julia Sporsen did well as the chief baddie, abetted by George von Bergen's mellifluous villain. Piotr Lempa was vocally impressive (save for fatal insecurity of intonation) as Mago, and members of the first cast played Evil Spirits etc. The general stylishness reflected a strong coaching department, with John Mark Ainsley credited as Visiting Professor. I did wonder if Anthony Legge stretched his singers with some very slow tempi in the more reflective arias?

The minimal staging at RAM, relying on imaginative costuming and lighting, was impressive in the absence of Handel's own facilities at the Haymarket - "The Opera of Rinaldo is filled with Thunder and Lightning, Illuminations, and Fireworks; which the Audience may look upon without catching Cold, and indeed without much Danger of being burnt; for there are several Engines filled with Water, and ready to play at a Minute's Warning, in case any such Accidents should happen..." [Joseph Addison in The Spectator].

[Perhaps another approach to these baroque operas might be suggested by the animated DVDs of OperaVox and The Cunning Little Vixen?]



See also Rinaldo by Pocket Opera

Peter Grahame Woolf