Opera Vivente presents rarely heard version of Handel's 'Rinaldo'
Among Handel's numerous operas, "Rinaldo" ranks rather high.
Never mind that the first version in 1711 contains recycled portions of earlier works; the main thing is that it provided the composer's sensational operatic debut in London. And never mind that his 1731 revision of the score also contains older material. It's still a good show, still filled with attractive melodies and vivid orchestration.
The earlier edition is the one that has received the bulk of attention from opera and record companies. The 1731 "Rinaldo," apparently, has never been staged in this country. At least Opera Vivente hasn't been able to determine otherwise, so its production, which wraps up Saturday, has the extra bonus of a little history-making.
The flair of Handel's music goes a long way toward making up for a convoluted plot about Crusaders, sorcerers and thwarted love. This is an opera where the parts are perhaps greater than the whole; each aria, each scene has its own power.
Opera Vivente, directed by John Bown and provided a vivid abstract set by Thomas Bumblauskas, offers a fanciful, futuristic take on the piece. We're in a post-apocalyptic world here, where the characters ...
The opera's original issue of the Crusades is sort of still there in this staging; you'll see as many signs of the cross made in this "Rinaldo" as you would in "Suor Angelica." But the emphasis is more on the emotions of the characters trying to deal with romantic desires and magical threats to those desires.
Every now and then, with its Flash- Gordon-meets-Mad-Max-look (Melanie Clark designed the costumes), the production takes a questionable, even silly turn, but little harm is done. Having an audience laugh periodically isn't the worst thing that could happen to a very long, ordinarily non-comic Handel opera.
On Thursday night at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, countertenor Daniel Bubeck gave an impressive performance in the title role. His voice had an appealing, mezzo-ish darkness. It could turn hooty and a little harsh under pressure, but otherwise filled the hall with a vibrant sound, backed by elegant phrasing.
Speaking of mezzo quality, Rebecca Ringle, as Armida, delivered that in abundance. Her rich timbre and supple coloratura filled out the music admirably, while her acting fleshed out the character of the evil sorcerer quite nicely (her fun outfit made me think Cat Woman from Mars).
Douglas Dodson brought a mostly warm, well-controlled countertenor voice and a fine sense of Handelian style to the role of Argante. At her best, Leah Inger sang sweetly as Almirena; her ornamentation in the opera's most famous aria, "Lascia ch'io pianga," was particularly elegant.
Frederic Rey, as Goffredo, provided the best articulation of the evening (the opera is sung in Bowen's English translation). Jason Epps used his promising bass-baritone effectively as the Magician.
The small period instrument orchestra had a rocky start, struggling with intonation during the first act, but gradually settled in and delivered steady, expressive work for conductor Joseph Gascho.
PHOTOS (by Cory Weaver) COURTESY OF OPERA VIVENTE