An Appealing Rinaldo at the Peralada Festival

SpainSpain Festival Castell Peralada 2018 – Handel, Rinaldo (concert version): Vespres D’Arnadí/Dani Espasa (conductor), Iglesia del Carmen, Peralada, 5.8.2018. (JMI)

Rinaldo © J. Castro-Iconna

Rinaldo – Xavier Sábata
Armida – Mary-Ellen Nesi
Argante – Hillary Summers
Almirena – Nuria Rial
Goffredo – Juan Sancho
Magician – Josep-Ramon Olivé

Rinaldo was the first opera that Handel composed to be performed in London, and had its premiere in 1711 at the Haymarket Theatre. It tells the story of the love between Rinaldo and Almirena during the First Crusade; other major characters are the magician Armida and Argante, the Ottoman leader, who is also in love with Almirena. It was very successful at the time but, like many other operas of the Baroque era, it fell into oblivion for more than 150 years. One cannot say that it now figures in the main repertoire, but it is quite usual to see it programmed in German opera houses. In recent years it has also been staged in places like Glyndebourne and Chicago.

Generally, the original 1711 version is performed. However, in Peralada it was decided to do the revised version of 1731, which does not offer much change from the original in terms of arias, although there are some cuts and additions; the most important difference is the change of tessitura and, therefore, of singers in some of the roles. And so, Argante goes from bass-baritone to mezzo-soprano, while Goffredo is now played by a tenor rather than a countertenor or a mezzo-soprano; the character of Eustazio simply disappears. In general, I find the original version more interesting: in the revised one, the change in voice for Argante is a loss, not to mention the disappearance of his important entrance aria.

The production was announced as semi-staged, but it’s really a concert version in which, happily, the singers do not use scores. The stage direction is by Xavier Sábata.

Dani Espasa conducted from the keyboard, and he offered an excellent reading, with strong support for the soloists. I found his conducting of Baroque music better than others I’ve had the occasion to hear in the past. The orchestra also gave a fine performance.

Rinaldo was sung by countertenor Xavier Sábata, a convincing singer, easy in agilities and always expressive. Nuria Rial played the part of Almirena. Until now I had only seen her in secondary roles, and she was very good here. Her voice is attractive and well-managed, and she was outstanding in the always much-anticipated aria, ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’.

Mary-Ellen Nesi, a true Baroque specialist, played Armida and did very well, although she seemed somewhat tired toward the end of the opera. The performance by tenor Juan Sancho as Goffredo was also impressive – he has become another specialist in Baroque opera. He sang with good taste and expression and has an appealing voice, although his voice can be somewhat nasal at times.

Mezzo-soprano Hillary Summers sang the part of Argante, but this is a case where the bass-baritone in the original version would make more sense. In the brief part of the magician, Josep-Ramón Olivé did well, with a voice appropriate to the character.

José M. Irurzun

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