Rinaldo review: A must see opera and a fine night out

Rinaldo review: A must see opera and a fine night out

A recent production at Glyndebourne portrayed it all as a schoolboy fantasy, which was often great fun but rather ducked the issue.

When the opera was first seen in London in 1711, the production had lots of magical pyrotechnics and at one stage released live sparrows to fly around the auditorium. It was a sensation, but these days would pose huge problems for Health and Safety and Animal Welfare.

Instead, what we saw at the Barbican was a concert performance with no scenery, no costumes, and no sparrows or pyrotechnics, and thanks to the quality of the musicians of the English Concert and a scintillating group of singers, we didn’t miss any of them.

In fact, with the singers coming on and off stage when required, and moving around sufficiently to interact with each other, there was still enough acting to convey the drama of the story, while the presence of the musicians on stage added greatly to our enjoyment of the many arias shared between singer and a single instrument or group of instruments.

Handel’s cast originally included three castrati, but emasculation of young male singers went out of fashion some time ago and nowadays the roles are sung by countertenors, the adult male singers with the highest voice range.

The title role in this production was sung by Iestyn Davies, whose voice is so versatile and pure that it surely deserves to be counted among the wonders of the operatic world.

The other singers also showed the wonderfully pure quality in their voices that matches Handel’s music so well. For Verdi or Puccini, you want oodles of emotion in the voice, but Handel just demands purity and vocal dexterity which all demonstrated with great skill.

Besides Iestyn Davies, my pick of the cast included Joelle Harvey as Rinaldo’s fiancee Almirena, and Sasha Cooke as Almirena’s father, whose gloriously mellow mezzo-soprano was a delight to listen to.

Even more than the singers, however, what made this such an exceptionally fine evening was the musicians of The English Concert conducted by Harry Bicket.

Playing on period instruments including a theorbo, a recorder and four natural trumpets, they produced a sound that was a delight to hear.

It would indeed have been a shame if this talented group had been consigned to an orchestra pit, as is normal for most operas.

Never staying long in one place, the English Concert’s Rinaldo came to the Barbican from a performance in Seville, and their next outing is at Carnegie Hall in New York.

You can find out about their forthcoming plans at englishconcert.co.uk. For anyone who loves Handel and other music of his time, they are well worth seeing.

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