Rinaldo was his first opera written for London. It was
based on a new libretto, written in English by Aaron Hill
and translated into Italian by Giacomo Rossi, who would be
responsible for adapting a number of libretti for Handel.
The story would have been a familiar one, based on Tasso’s
Gerusalemme liberata but mixing in elements of Ariosto’s
Orlando Furioso. The resulting opera called for a number
of spectacular stage effects. Handel balanced these with some
of his most winning music. He cheated a little though, around
two thirds of the score is based on existing material written
during his period in Italy - and thus unlikely to be familiar to his London audience.
The result was a great success and did
much to establish Italian opera in London. It also, of course,
established Handel himself in London as well.
an age without gramophone recordings, popular music was disseminated
via publication; anonymous adapters would produce chamber
versions of pieces suitable for use in small venues and in
the home. Handel himself rarely produced printed full scores
of his operas and oratorios, to have done so would have increased
the risk of pirate performances. But before the end of the
first run of Rinaldo, pirate publisher John Walsh had
produced a printed volume of arias from the opera, ‘adapted
curiously’ to allow chamber performance.
would eventually have a formal relationship with Walsh but
at this early stage in his career, Walsh’s publications were
produced without Handel’s sanction. He simply issued a selection
of the best arias.
French group, Ensemble Hypothesis, has had the idea of re-creating
a hypothetical chamber performance of a selection from Rinaldo
using Walsh’s publication as the basis. To this they have
added an additional selection of music to give the listener
a greater taste for the plot dramatics of the opera.
ensemble has Sigurd van Lommel as the sole singer which means
that he must take a variety of roles, encompassing music written
for different singers. For the duets, he is joined by d’Agostino’s
chamber music, the results are wonderfully effective. The
group plays the overture and the various pieces of battle
music. The lively interplay between the three musicians is
a joy. If the disc had consisted solely of instrumental adaptations,
then I would have been pleased beyond measure. You never get
the feel that this is music cut down to a smaller size. The
instrumentalists give Handel’s lines their full weight and
create believable chamber music.
van Lommel is not really up to the task of impersonating the
starry personnel for whom the opera was originally written.
His voice has something of a hollow sound and his sense of
line is not ideal. At times he has an annoying tendency to
put bulges on individual notes. More worryingly, he has trouble
with the frequent passages of fioriture, the results
being often smudgy and unconvincing. He never gives you the
feeling that he is even attempting to differentiate between
the various characters so the final result is curiously lacking
in dramatic shape.
challenge of incarnating all the characters from the opera
would test the greatest of singers and here von Lommel is
not up to the job. This unfortunately means that Ensemble
Hypothesis’s lovely grasp of Handel’s music is rather lost.
I do hope that they record more, either with a more suitable
singer or perhaps on their own.