Tuesday, February 28, 2012

LOC Will Feature Hovering Harpsichord in "Rinaldo" This Month

David Daniels in the tile role of Rinaldo
(Photo: Terrence Antonio James/ Chicago Tribune)
"An opera that released a flock of sparrows over the heads of astonished London theatergoers 300 years ago is about to have its first full staging at Lyric Opera of Chicago. There won't be any live birds set loose in the Ardis Krainik Theatre, but there will be songbirds of another sort, amid a roster of mostly newcomers, with David Daniels, today's foremost countertenor, as the eponymous hero of Handel's Rinaldo. The new production that opens Wednesday night at the Civic Opera House marks a Chicago reunion for Daniels, conductor Harry Bicket and stage director Francisco Negrin, all of whom made their Lyric debuts in another Handel opera, Partenope, in 2003. Last season here, Daniels and Bicket collaborated in a successful new production of Handel's Hercules. An Italian opera by a German composer written for an English audience, Rinaldo was the young Handel's first work written specifically for the London stage, and his first operatic triumph, receiving more performances during his lifetime than any of his 42 operas. Much of that success had to do with the high level of singing (the cast included
several of the era's reigning castratos) as well as the spectacular stagecraft, which included fire-breathing dragons, flying machines and the above-mentioned avian display. The score itself, cobbled together from numbers Handel had composed for his earlier opera, Agrippina, and other works from his sojourn in Italy, represents the composer at his very best. London had heard nothing like it. Lyric audiences made its acquaintance once before, in 1984, when the company presented Rinaldo in a concert version starring Marilyn Horne, Benita Valente and Samuel Ramey. 'Every number in Rinaldo is a knockout,' says the British Baroque specialist Bicket, who has conducted the work at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and at New York City Opera. The conductor is basing Lyric's production on the original (and superior) 1711 version of the score, with an aria for Rinaldo and another given here to Rinaldo's beloved Almirena (German soprano Julia Kleiter) which Handel composed for a later revival. Never mind the clunky libretto, which concerns the Christian siege of Saracen-occupied Jerusalem during the first Crusade, laced with entangled romances of the sort that were standard procedure in Baroque opera. Director Negrin has reimagined the story as a modern allegorical fantasy, with designs by his frequent collaborator, Louis Desire, that were inspired by such campy futuristic films as Roger Vadim's Barbarella and Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Never mind the clunky libretto, which concerns the Christian siege of Saracen-occupied Jerusalem during the first Crusade, laced with entangled romances of the sort that were standard procedure in Baroque opera. The central design element is a huge tilted harpsichord that represents the world of the sorceress Armida (South African soprano Elza van den Heever)." [Source]

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