- Rinaldo, opera, HWV 7
Handel: Rinaldoby Christopher Hogwood
It was with Rinaldo (1711) that Handel began his reign as the leading composer of Italian opera in England, and something akin to the opera's smashing success at the time is re-created in this exceptional recording. One of many operas based on Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, it narrates an episode from the First Crusade with added elements of romance and magic. Although the incredibly talented and versatile Cecilia Bartoli gets top billing here -- and not unjustly, for her performance as Almirena is gorgeous -- this is truly a star vehicle for countertenor David Daniels in the title role, in which he shines brilliantly. His rendition of the lament "Cara sposa" shows one side of his vocal ability, molding long, sustained lines with extraordinarily touching intensity, while the athletic "Venti, turbini" and "Or la tromba" showcase his virtuosity. The centerpiece of Bartoli's interpretation is also a lament: "Lascia ch'io pianga," in which she surpasses even Daniels in mournful beauty. Her delicious charm comes through also, as does her seemingly effortless vocal agility, in "Augelletti che cantate" and the all-too-short "Bel piacere." The remainder of the cast is strong as well, particularly mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink in the trousers role of Goffredo, Almirena's father. As the sorceress Armida, soprano Luba Orgonasova should perhaps sound more frightening, but hers is an intelligently drawn portrait of the opera's most complex character, and her lament, "Ah! crudel," is particularly affecting. The other star here is the Academy of Ancient Music, under Christopher Hogwood's direction. Rinaldo is a score full of instrumental ingenuity, from the twittering recorder consort that accompanies Almirena's "Augelletti" scene to the harpsichord solos in Armida's "Vo' far guerra," and also extending to purely orchestral interludes, such as the brassy marches (contrasting ones for the Christians and their heathen enemies) and the dramatic Battaglia. (There's also an authentic 18th-century thunder machine!) In every way, this recording -- offering the complete, original version of the opera -- is one to savor.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsChristopher Hogwood Primary Artist
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This is a magnificent recording with an absolute dream cast. Despite its historical context within the late 11th century battles between the Crusades and the Saracens, Handel's "Rinaldo", written in the early 18th century, is actually a fanciful tale of love, devotion and betrayal populated by kings and warriors, fair maidens and sorcerers. It has all the elements of a great period action movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. You need a real vocal swashbuckler in the title role, and countertenor David Daniels is ideally suited with a rarefied voice that is alternately heroic and romantic. With his stunning coloratura and dramatic intensity, it would be hard to imagine anyone better as the conflicted Christian hero Rinaldo, who can lead an entire army to take Jerusalem but still have trouble taking his true love Almirena away from the hands of evil magicians. Daniels is particularly convincing with the music that reflects his deep love for her, in particular, with Rinaldo's famous lament, "Cara sposa, amante cara, dove sei?'. The beauty of his timbre really flows out of him almost effortlessly, and provides proof positive that his is a special talent. As great as he is here, Daniels actually surpassed this performance two years later in David Alden's audacious update of the opera, staged in Munich in 2001 and luckily captured on DVD two years later (also strongly recommended). While not the most ideal interpreter of Handel, superstar mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli displays her supreme technique as Almirena. Her style is famously full of dramatic fire, but one gets the sense that a more plaintive manner would be more appropriate for such a lovelorn character. I kept thinking she could have been better cast as the sorceress Armida were it as an important a role. At times, her presence is so overwhelming that she singes some of the more openly yearning arias with her bravura technique and amazing range. Ironically though, she and the more delicately toned Daniels meld together perfectly on their brief duets, notably "Scherzano sul tuo volto", and she certainly delivers the goods on the sonorous "Lascia ch'io pianga", likely the most definitive recorded version on the market now. In a "pants" role, i.e., a female playing a male, mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink convincingly plays the Christian army general Goffredo, who almost acts like the chorus for all the action. Although the role is a bit passive, she lends a beautiful tone to all her pieces. Soprano Luba Orgonasova plays Armida, a sorceress that requires a singer to convey a concurrent sense of sensuality and melodrama, especially as she seduces and then falls in love with the stalwart Rinaldo. She falls a bit short though not at the sacrifice of communicating the fury of feelings which cause her change of heart. Quite impressive is baritone Gerald Finley, who is pitch perfect and provides clear diction as Argante, the King of Jerusalem. Perhaps because his voice is so dramatically deeper than anyone else's in the cast, he fully captures the dominating presence of his character. Amazingly there are two other countertenors in this stellar cast, which just shows how versatile this voice type truly is. Bejun Mehta brings a velvety quality to his aria, "Andate, o forti, fra stragi e morti"; and Daniel Taylor, with his choirboy innocence, does as well as he can in the least interesting role of Goffredo's brother Eustazio, especially with the lovely "Siam prossimi al porto", which opens Act II. I love how characters will sing successive couplets culminating in some amazingly dulcet tones. Sound effects of thunder and battle and even simulations of birdsongs provide effective bridges between pieces and acts. Special praise should go to conductor Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music for the authentically dramatic sound of the period instruments. This is one of Handel's great early works, and we are