If St Trinian’s had invited the nearest boy’s school to put on a production of Handel’s first London opera, then it would probably have looked something like Robert Carson’s 2011 production of Rinaldo at Glyndbourne. It is testament to the indisposition of modern directors to take opera seria seriously. The production has now returned for Glyndbourne’s Touring season having also been revived for the festival in the summer.
There is some justification for Carson’s comic reinterpretations . It is not one of Handel’s more dramatically compelling operas and contain some bizarre turns of events. Aaron Hill, then the newly appointed director at the Haymarket Theatre, engaged Handel to write the score for a scenario he himself had adapted in such away as to create the greatest possible spectacle with which to launch Italian opera in London. Just in case Handel’s music wasn’t spectacular enough, Hill stuffed Rinaldo with a good dose of rumbling thunder, fireworks and sexual misadventure. What we get is a slightly frenzied opera which often veers towards ridiculousness. But if Rinaldo is mildly ridiculous, Robert Carson’s reimagining is baffling. He makes much of the incipient sexual heat with plenty of fishnet stockings, short skirts and skintight latex. The contrived comedy attracts some polite laughter but is mostly elicited from cheap visual and sexual gags. There is a good deal of knights going into battle mounted on bicycles and some cross-dressing thrown in for good measure. But this school boy escapade leaves much of the opera confusingly unaccounted for..
Be that as it may, the music still provides plenty of excitement. Handel’s score bubbles along from start to finish, full of pageantry and dramatic action. Meanwhile, Jacquelyn Stucker gives an exceptional performance as Armida, vocally towering over everyone as the irascible sorceress. She navigated all her demanding coloratura passages with unerring poise and elegance in a suitably ferocious performance. Her acting skills are also superb. Unfortunately, the counter-tenor singing was not of the same class as Stucker and the production suffers from the need to cast four counter-tenor roles. Jake Arditti, singing Rinaldo, had difficulty in some of the more technically demanding sections and struggled to project over the orchestra. James Hall was a clear toned Goffredo leading the Crusade, while Tom Scott-Cowell sings Eustazio. William Towers makes up the forth as the magician. Irish soprano Anna Devin wasn’t altogether comfortable in the opera’s most famous aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’, but otherwise is a polished Almirena while Aubrey Allicock is a slightly rough edged Argante.
The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra make brisk and lively, if sometimes untidy, work of the score from the pit under the direction of David Bates.