Kathleen Kim (Armida), center, surrounded by her servants in Rinaldo, Central City Opera, 2009 (photo by Mark Kiryluk)
Giacomo Rossi wrote the libretto, building on a scenario devised by the Queen's Theater impresario Aaron Hill. The story is based, very loosely, on the love story of Armida and Rinaldo from Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (translated in English as Jerusalem Delivered). Among the many changes are the addition of Goffredo's daughter, Almirena, with whom Rinaldo is in love; the addition of the villain, Argante, who is in love with Armida; and the lieto fine, by which Almirena and Rinaldo are reunited and Argante and Armida are together converted to Christianity. It was Handel's first opera in London, premiered at the Queen's Theater in 1711, so Handel recycled a substantial amount of his earlier music, unknown to London audiences at that point. Its wild success with audiences, along with Handel's many dazzling performances as keyboard virtuoso, sealed his reputation in London.
David Walker (Goffredo) and Claire Kuttler (Donna) in Rinaldo, Central City Opera, 2009 (photo by Mark Kiryluk)
The hits of the cast were on the Ming side, with Kathleen Kim's Armida made memorable by blazing high notes and a malevolent stage presence, although the solidity of her runs seemed at times to come at the expense of rushing ahead of the orchestra. Baritone Joshua Hopkins was even more impressive as Argante, with equally nimble melismatic smoothness and a roaring tone that matched his grand entrance, carried on a litter by four attendants. The role of Goffredo, created by Handel as a trouser role for contralto Francesca Vanini-Boschi, was here given to the remarkable countertenor David Walker, who so impressed me in Jonathan Dove's Tobias and the Angel and has had good and less good turns in Handel. In Conan braids and a ridiculous golden codpiece, Walker seemed slightly off vocally, with registers not quite linked together smoothly and some odd production.
Phyllis Pancella (Rinaldo) in Rinaldo, Central City Opera, 2009 (photo by Mark Kiryluk)
Some of the best musical experiences came from the pit, such as the virtuosic harpsichord solo in Vo' far guerra. Originally improvised by Handel himself (the score has only some blank measures marked "Cembalo," to mark the places where the composer did his thing), the harpsichord solo is given in a modern reconstruction in the Hallische Handel edition, edited by David R. Kimbell. All such reconstructions are based on a version of the improvisations published in the 18th century by Walsh, according to what Handel provided him, although it is unlikely that the wily Handel would give away his best tricks. For the famous birdsong aria, Augeletti che cantate, the three recorder parts were ably played, mostly doubled, as in Handel's time, by the other wind players (and, here, by one violist!). Although it seemed odd not to have any visual image of birds in this aria, it is important to remember that Addison, writing in The Spectator about the London production, ridiculed the use of live sparrows that escaped and flew all over the theater, making entrances in the wrong scenes and so on. The strings had a generally luscious sound, with an especially unified and lush ensemble violin tone.
Kyle MacMillan, A spellbinding staging of "Rinaldo" (Denver Post, July 14)
---, Opera has a crush on Handel (Denver Post, July 5)
Wes Blomster, Central City Opera review: getting a handle on Handel (Daily Camera, July 13)
Make your plans for a visit to Central City Opera next summer, a program that will again follow Pelham Pearce's formula for the company: one chestnut (Puccini's Madama Butterfly), one unusual work (Jake Heggie's new opera Three Decembers), and -- de gustibus non est disputandum -- something Broadway.