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Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (12) - Handel, Rinaldo: Soloists, Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (conductor), Usher Hall, 24. 8.2009 (SRT) 

Rinaldo – Clint van der Linde

Goffredo – Robin Blaze

Eustazio – Damien Guillon

Almirena – Maki Mori

Argante – Roderick Williams

Armida – Rachel Nicholls


With its marvellous music but impossibly elaborate stage requirements, Handel’s Rinaldo is the perfect opera for concert performance, and you’d be hard pressed to get a better performance than this one. No dragons, furies or mountains belching flame, but there was vocal drama in spades.

Rinaldo is an opera of high voices and it is a credit to the casting supervisor that the three main countertenors were so well contrasted. As Goffredo, the crusading captain, Robin Blaze’s light voice may not have made you think instantly of charismatic leadership, but the grace with which he assayed his arias more than made up for this. As his brother Eustazio, Damien Guillon’s voice was more classically beautiful but technically superb, negotiating numbers like the tricky wheel-of-fortune aria in Act 1 with flair and ease. Clint van der Linde was a knockout as Rinaldo himself. To some ears his voice may seem pallid and cool, but to me he was ethereal and sometimes mystical, quite appropriate for the hero who is set apart from those around him. His voice had plenty of beauty – Cara sposa was lovely – but he really came into his own in his great heroic arias, especially Venti, turbini at the end of Act 1 and the storming Or la tromba where the accompaniment of timpani and four baroque trumpets was no impediment to vocal fireworks. His ornamentations were really stunning, summoning up fantastic coloratura and really catching fire above the stave. Maybe his Italian articulation wasn’t so clear, but I could forgive anything with technique like his.

The ladies were well contrasted too, though to the obvious advantage of Rachel Nicholls’ storming Armida, arguably the best character in the piece. Nicholls was a real fire-eater in the role and, had there been any scenery to chew, she would have carried off the dramatic honours single-handedly. Her ferocious entrance aria was clear and precise, and the passion of Vo’ fa guerra was awesome. Her big voice had strength, clarity and laser-like power. Maki Mori’s Almirena was very fine, but pallid and a little pathetic next to Nicholls (though perhaps that’s partly Handel’s point). She just about pulled off some very ambitious ornamentations in her first aria, though Lascia ch’io pianga turned into a display of vocal beauty for its own sake rather than a connection with the character’s inmost emotions. No criticism at all of the ever-fantastic Roderick Williams who stormed through the role of Argante, from the gloriously hearty coloratura in his entrance aria to his lovesick declaration of passion to Almirena. Williams is fast becoming the finest British baritone we have. Minor roles were taken well, with a somewhat distanced Sorcerer (Sumihito Uesugi) and a gorgeously saucy pair of sirens (Libby Crabtree and Rebecca Outram).

The orchestral playing was quite astonishing. Anyone who has heard the Bach Collegium Japan on CD will testify to their very distinctive brand of period sound and their flawless sense of ensemble. They move and breathe as one under Suzuki’s magnificent direction. That said, special praise should go to the continuo players for coping with their runs with such distinction. Masato Suzuki’s harpsichord solo in Vo’ fa guerra was astonishing, and recorder player Dan Laurin was having tremendous fun with his fiendishly difficult part. It may be a long time before we see a Rinaldo according to Handel’s stage directions, but so long as there are performers like this who can bring it alive so vividly, that’s no great privation.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 6thSeptember at venues across the city. For full details go to


Simon Thompson

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