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Skin-tight rubber and lacrosse sticks bring contemporary chic to this timeless fantasy of warriors and witches in Robert Carsen's fun-filled transformation of Handel's first London triumph. Conducting from the keyboard just as Handel himself did, Ottavio Dantone leads a youthful cast of today's luminaries in the dramatic art of Baroque opera, the 'affecting' Sonia Prina, the 'unadorned intensity' of Anett Fritsch and 'fire-breathing flair' (The Observer) of Brenda Rae.
It's always good to have a fresh outlook placed on the subjects of Handel's Baroque operas - or at least I think so anyway. Whether it's traditional (although I've never seen a Handel opera done "authentically" period), whether it's in a modern setting, or according to a more abstract conception, it helps if there is a strong vision that is able to reconsider what the essential themes of the work are and how they can be best presented to a modern audience. The purpose of any production, modern dress or otherwise, must surely be to reflect on what the work is actually about, not recreate a historical performance, and if it can break through the rigid formalism of opera seria and actually make it entertaining at the same time, well then so much the better.
Recognising that Handel's first London opera from 1711 is not the most consistent work, the majority of it cobbled together like a remix of Handel's earlier greatest hits, it certainly does no harm to try and make it look as fresh and meaningful as Handel somehow manages to make it all sound. Robert Carsen makes his intentions clear from the outset, asking the question "Were the Crusades political or inspired by an act of personal vengeance?" This message is written in chalk across a blackboard and it's an English boys' boarding school that acts as the backdrop or framing device to delve into the personal sentiments expressed so beautifully if somewhat generically in what is after all a patched together piece. In response to this history lesson question, a young boy, bullied and teased by his classmates, his life made a misery by his authoritarian teachers, imagines himself the great warrior Rinaldo and sees the mighty forces of Goffredo coming out from behind the blackboard to slay his tormentors.Read more ›
This Glyndebourne production of Handel's great "Rinaldo" is set on a Harry Potter type school for teenagers. There are misbehaving children, amorous teachers, and dreams of battles, crusades and sorcery. BUT, does it work? Alas, not for me.
"RegiaTheater" is the term used over the past decade or so, for stage works (plays/operas) wherein the director's radical take largely overwhelms the underlying work being performed. It has, here in America, a very negative connotation, smacking of German/Austrian uber-works and director hubris. Most opera fans here will say that they hate it and just condemn these productions, often sight unseen. ("I'll play the dvd but only to listen to the music.") But, the audience for these directorial efforts is more amenable in Europe.
But what is RegiaTheater really? The idea, as here, of changing the time and place where the work is set is hardly new. Orson Welles did it in the 1930's with Shakespeare, and the idea is so common as to be hardly radical. I can scarcely think of a Shakespeare play that I have seen in the past fifteen years (live or dvd) where this wasn't the case.
This production of Rinaldo makes me wonder if Robert Carsen was bullied as a child and is reliving his revenge fantasies. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I found it all very entertaining and for those of us who actually went to school in England it also provides some recognizable images (which may inspire nostalgia or horror depending on one's personal experience). For me, transposing the story to an English boarding school was an ingenious idea. For a modern audience (and probably for the original audiences too) the stories of Baroque opera are as irrelevant as they are historically inaccurate. They exist only as a framework to hang the stories of human interactions (usually love complications of one sort or another) in order to explore human emotions (and, of course, as a showcase for vocal display). Most of the plots are ridiculous if taken literally so I don't see any harm in reinterpreting them so long as the underlying and intended emotions still arise convincingly from the altered scenario. This new production succeeds in doing that. What schoolboy hasn't indulged in fantasies, a la 'Billy Liar,' about being a great warrior and rescuing a fair maiden in distress? Particularly if he is subjected to bullying and in need of a little escapism and some means, if only imaginary, of bettering his persecutors? By wrapping the old crusader story in this modern super-scenario, Carsen has made it more believable and added an extra dimension of pathos. Of course, none of this is strictly necessary. Telling the story straight and in a traditional setting would be just fine and I would have greatly enjoyed it, I'm sure. But Carsen has given us a new way to relate to this story and that is not a trivial thing.Read more ›