Traditionalist Handelians had trouble accepting the playful take by director Robert Carsen and designer Gideon Davey on Rinaldo at its premiere three years ago; judging by the audience’s response to this revival under Bruno Ravella, that original resistance has been overcome.
By setting the First Crusade in a schoolroom - with the hero a fantasising Harry Potter figure – this show lets the magic and silliness of the plot take wing with glorious preposterousness; none of the directorial liberties are at the expense of the music which – with that incomparable countertenor Iestyn Davies in the title role – ravishes the heart as it should.
One just feels sorry for the other countertenors – Tim Mead and Anthony Roth Costanzo – who must share the stage with him; both excellent, both hopelessly outshone.
One assumes Handel had fun staging this show in 1711, and Ravella and his movement director Philippe Giraudeau certainly have fun now, much aided by the extraordinary Karina Gauvin as a dominatrix-style Sorceress attended by a posse of Furies from St Trinians.
It didn’t matter that some of Handel’s triumphal sinfonias were barely audible above the gales of laughter provoked by the spiralling madness on stage; for most of the evening, we savoured the exquisite playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Ottavio Dantone’s direction – and particularly that of its continuos – with bated breath. I just want to see this marvellous show again - immediately.