Rinaldo is the work with which Handel made his London debut at the Haymarket
Theatre in 1711. It remained his most popular opera during his
lifetime but has been much less popular since. Though there’s
a fine recording on CD, directed by Christopher Hogwood, with
David Daniels and Cecilia Bartoli (Decca 467 0872, 3 CDs - see
my November 2009 Download
Roundup), and a DVD version directed by Harry Bicket (Arthaus
Musik 100388: ‘a distinctly mixed bag’ according
to Peter Wells - review),
the new Glyndebourne recording deserves a qualified welcome.
Many of you will already have seen and heard this recording
when it was broadcast on BBC Four at the end of March, and will
have made up your own minds about the quality of the performance
- generally very good - and production. Glyndebourne bowed to
the regrettable modern fashion of fooling about with the setting.
I’m entirely with the reviewer in The Times who
advised prospective purchasers to listen wholeheartedly
but to watch with caution - my emphasis; don’t
be deceived by what looks like a conventional production on
the DVD cover - but you may think otherwise than me about what
the blurb describes as ‘fun filled … contemporary
I’d best begin with a confession; I recorded the BBC broadcast,
fully intending to watch and listen to it very soon thereafter.
In fact, I listened to just over half and lost patience with
the production, intending to return at a later date and listen
to the rest in audio only. It’s still sitting on my HDD
recorder and I’ve even contemplated erasing it several
times. What it has inspired me to do, however, is to return
to the Hogwood recording with enjoyment.
I began with the DVD as I’d intended to continue with
my HDD recording, in audio only via my computer and my usual
listening system in my study. Devoid of the sight of what was
happening on stage, I was more than happy with what I heard;
if issued in audio-only form, this recording would have a strong
claim, especially as the DVD sounds very well when played on
either of my audio systems - I keep a Cambridge Audio 650BD
player exclusively for audio: it works superbly with SACD, blu-ray,
DVD, CD and mp3. (See Kirk McElhearn’s enthusiastic review
of its successor, the 651BD.) The sound quality is good, with
an excellent balance between voices and orchestra - not always
attained in live recordings - and very little distracting stage
There are no weak members of the cast; Ottavio Dantone’s
direction is excellent and the orchestra provide first-class
support. Sonia Prina’s Rinaldo is a delight; cara sposa
receives from her as good a performance as any that I’ve
heard, rivalling even Sarah Connolly whom I’ve hitherto
regarded as the prime contemporary female exponent of Handel’s
counter-tenor heroes. Anett Fritsch’s Lascia ch’io
piango is about as good as it gets, too.
Of the other voices it was Luca Pisarone as the dark-voiced
Saracen chief Argante who made the greatest impression on me.
I understand that Varduhi Abrahamayan took on the role of Goffredo
at short notice; by the time that the recording was made she
had clearly made it her own. Brenda Rae’s kinky Armida
is a sight to behold as well as a vocal delight.
One reviewer reported that the Glyndebourne audience emitted
an audible groan as the curtain went up on the opening classroom
scene. Though not much given to groans, I fully understand how
they felt. Everything about the production is very slick, but
a school classroom, however posh - teachers who wear gowns and
academic squares - and, later, the bike shed is no substitute
for the magic enchantments envisaged by Handel’s librettist
and by his source, Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata.
Sonia Prina’s cara sposa, which I’ve praised,
is somehow diminished by seeing her deliver it crawling in school
uniform on the floor against the mesh of the bike shed. On the
first night I gather that the effect was further diminished
by a power cut.
Nor did I think the sight of the mounting of bicycles to ride
as trusty steeds into battle added much to Prina’s fine
singing of venti, turbini - just the opposite - though
the audience clearly enjoyed the sight of Rinaldo on his ‘steed’
silhouetted, ET-style against the moon, albeit with visible
support. Tim Mead had to contend with mending a flat tyre while
delivering a fine account of siam prossimi al porto - da
questo lido aprico. Are we really meant to be allured by
the buck-toothed bespectacled sirens who tempt Rinaldo into
their boat, or indeed by the equally unattractive make-up of
Almirena herself, whom they are meant to resemble?
So I shall listen to the Glyndebourne set in future, but in
audio only, which places it up against the competition of Christopher
Hogwood, David Daniels and Cecilia Bartoli. Though the DVD and
even the blu-ray versions can be obtained for around £24
and £29 respectively, slightly less than the Decca CDs
(467 0872, around £35), in a straight contest I’d
have to choose the latter.
It’s to Hogwood on CD, therefore, that I primarily direct
potential listeners. Those seeking a bargain should avoid the
Naxos recording - review
- but they could do much worse than consider the period-instrument
version recorded by Jean-Claude Malgoire with Carolyn Watkinson
as Rinaldo and la grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy
in 1977. It comes on a 3-CD set for around £13.50 (Sony
Opera House 88697576412) or in a temptingly inexpensive 22-CD
box with Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, Rodelinda,
Alessandro, Lotario, Partenope and Serse
(Sony/RCA/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697489402, around £50).
The individual discs are housed in cardboard slipcases and there’s
a booklet with cast details and synopses of all eight operas
- sadly, a very brief one in the case of Rinaldo. None
of the recordings would be front-runners but all are much more
than adequate; Alan Blyth recommended the Rinaldo in
1978 as one of the most enjoyable Handel opera recordings that
he’d heard. I inherited the set from a friend who died
recently and can recommend it as an outstanding bargain.
The new Glyndebourne set will serve you well if you can take
the visual idiosyncrasies better than I did. Otherwise it has
to be Christopher Hogwood’s team on Decca or the bumper
bargain 22-CD set from Sony.