Opera: The singing crusader rides again

HANDEL'S RINALDO SYMPHONY HALL BIRMINGHAM

THE FIRST Crusade is stalled, and Godfrey of Bouillon, Jerusalem's future king, is in the soup. Thwarted by stiff Saracen resistance, what he desperately needs is a young daredevil to break the deadlock. Happily his daughter, Almirena, is a stunner. Enter the hero, Rinaldo. Love at a glance. Affray. Christians 3, Islam 0.

Handel, Gluck, Weber and Dvork - not to mention Brahms - all span works from the tale of the peerless Rinaldo, the scheming Armida, or both. For Handel it proved a godsend: armed with a pithy libretto from the rising young impresario Aaron Hill, a punchy Italian translation, and a bevy of stage machinery, he took London's Haymarket by Lloyd Webber- like storm in 1711, before the Hanoverians even had a foothold.

Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music, currently celebrating their 25th season, are touring Rinaldo round Northern Europe in two bursts. They return next November with concert performances in Manchester and London; and on Wednesday they set up shop in Birmingham's Symphony Hall - if not with the full panoply of caves, waterfalls, emeralds, tweeting sparrows, chariots and flying machines to which the barnstorming Queen's Theatre premiere was treated, with a cast whose almost visual dramatic interpretation had hearts drumming and war-drums thrumming.

A selling-point, if such were needed, was the appearance of Cecilia Bartoli in the role of Almirena: not Handel's best-drawn role, but one to which Bartoli brought enchantment in two melting arias: a breathy, pathos-ridden "Lascia ch'io pianga" (a Victorian drawing-room favourite), with its beguiling ripieno recorder birds' chorus; and the stunning, virtually unaccompanied "Bel piacere" on which the finely vibratoed Bartoli cutting edge worked wonders.

If Glyndebourne's Rodelinda seemed the apotheosis of the counter-tenor, try Rinaldo: four roles encompass the alto register, notably Rinaldo himself (premiered in 1711 by the great castrato Nicolini). Here it was the resplendent Polish contralto Ewa Podles, vivid in gesture, meaty in delivery, a performance sweeping all before it with its shifts in dramatic mood, if not always in vocal colouring. The stichomythia - tense, quickfire exchanges of recitative - dazzled in Act 3; and here the Academy's instrumental ensemble, after a pallid launch to Act 1, became all it once used to be: charged and exciting, with trumpets on the nail.

Armida came late into her own. She fumed wanly in Act 1, but her caving in to Rinaldo's macho allure brought forth two sublime arias from the Florentine soprano Maria Costanza Nocentini. Likewise Hilary Summers' Goffredo: initially awkward, delightfully assured later on. But a Canadian double act invigorated Act 1: baritone Gerald Finley as a suave, Moorish satrap; and Daniel Taylor, who recently wowed Glyndebourne in Handel's Theodora, sublime as Bartoli's "uncle" Eustazio, to whom Handel gave some of the most touching arias of all.

Roderic Dunnett

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices