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article url: http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/music/O004199 Rinaldo.
Opera in three acts by GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL to a libretto by GIACOMO ROSSI based on an outline
by AARON HILL after TORQUATO TASSO’s Gerusalemme liberata; London, Queen’s Theatre, 24
February 1711 (revised version, London, King’s Theatre, 6 April 1731).
Goffredo captain of the Christian armies contralto Almirena his daughter, betrothed to Rinaldo soprano
Rinaldo celebrated Christian hero mezzo-soprano Eustazio brother of Goffredo contralto Argante Saracen King of Jerusalem bass Armida Queen of Damascus, enchantress soprano A Christian Magician bass A Herald tenor A Siren soprano Mermaids, spirits, fairies, officers, guards, attendants
Setting Near Jerusalem, during the First Crusade Rinaldo was not only Handel’s first opera for London but also the first Italian opera specifically
composed for the London stage; previous examples had been pasticcios or adaptations. It was an
immediate public success and (despite mocking notices from Addison and Steele in The Spectator)
had 15 performances before the close of the 1710–11 season. A strong cast was led by the castrato
Nicolini in the title role, and included Isabella Girardeau (Almirena), Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti
(Armida), Valentino Urbani (Eustazio), Francesca Vanini (Goffredo) and her husband Giuseppe
Boschi (Argante). There were revivals in 1712, 1713, 1714 and 1717, with many cast changes and
consequent revisions. The changes for the first three revivals are difficult to establish because of the
absence of printed wordbooks, but the book issued for the 1717 revival indicates several differences
from the 1711 version, notably to allow the alto castrato Gaetano Berenstadt to take over the role of
Argante; he was given at least three new arias. There was no further revival in London until 1731,
when Handel made substantial revisions to the opera, especially in the final act. These were partly
to reduce the extravagant scenic demands of the original, and partly to accommodate a
much-changed cast, which included the alto castrato Senesino as Rinaldo, the contraltos Antonia
Merighi and Francesca Bertolli as Armida and Argante, and the tenor Annibale Pio Fabri as
Rinaldo was performed in a German translation by Barthold Feind in Hamburg in 1715, with revivals
in 1723 and 1727. The first performances since the 18th century were given in London in February
1933 by pupils of the Hammersmith Day Continuation School at the Century Theatre, Archer Street,
and the ‘Venture’ Fellowship Centre, Notting Hill. The opera was arranged, translated and conducted
by Olive Daunt. The first professional performance was at Halle in June 1954, conducted by
Horst-Tanu Margraf, and the first in Britain was by the Handel Opera Society at Sadler’s Wells 1 of 3 9/16/10 4:31 PM Rinaldo in Oxford Music Online http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/mus... Theatre, London, on 17 May 1961, conducted by Charles Farncombe. It was also the first Handel
opera to be seen at the Metropolitan, in a Canadian production with Marilyn Horne in 1984.
Chrysander issued two scores of Rinaldo in the Händel-Gesellschaft edition, the second (1894),
containing both the 1711 and 1731 versions, being a replacement of the first (1874) which contained
only the 1711 version. Virtually all the music of 1711 and 1731 is included in the revised volume,
though with deficiencies of detail (especially in the stage directions). The additional arias of the
revivals in the period 1712–17, of which Chrysander was unaware, are not shown. Copyright © Oxford
University Press 2007 —
2010. Tasso’s poem is an epic elaboration of the history of the First Crusade (1096–9) in which Christian
forces led by Godfrey of Bouillon (Goffredo; c1061–1100) captured Jerusalem from the Saracens.
The operatic version treats the poems material freely, with much emphasis on scenic
transformations and other stage effects. The action nominally takes place outside the walls of
Jerusalem while the city is under siege by the Christian armies, but some scenes have fantastic
settings of no specified location.
ACT 1 Goffredo is reminded that he has promised the knight Rinaldo the hand of his daughter
Almirena if the city is captured. A herald announces the appearance of the Saracen king Argante,
who emerges from the city to demand a three-day truce, which Goffredo grants. Argante summons
the aid of Armida, Queen of Damascus and a sorceress. She appears in a chariot drawn by dragons
and proposes to secure victory by seducing Rinaldo away from the Christian camp. Her first action,
however, is to abduct Almirena from a beautiful grove in which she and Rinaldo have been
exchanging vows of love. Eustazio, Goffredo’s brother, advises Rinaldo to consult a local hermit,
and Rinaldo vows revenge.
ACT 2 Rinaldo, Goffredo and Eustazio, in search of Almirena, arrive at the shore of a sea in which
mermaids are seen playing. A Siren or Spirit tries to entice Rinaldo into a boat. He is at first held
back by his companions, but breaks free, boards the boat and sails out of sight. In Armida’s
enchanted palace, Almirena receives unwelcome attentions from Argante. Armida herself rejoices in
Rinaldo’s capture. She offers him her love but he scornfully rejects it; she tries to seduce him by
taking the form of Almirena, but after initial confusion Rinaldo again avoids her. Argante then
resumes his advances to (as he thinks) Almirena, promising to free her from Armida’s bondage; but
it is the disguised Armida he is addressing. The two part in anger.
ACT 3 By his cave, at the foot of the threatening mountain on which Armida’s palace is situated, a
Christian Magician – the hermit mentioned by Eustazio – tells Goffredo and Eustazio to ascend the
mountain, giving them magic wands to defeat the monsters that defend it. The brothers reach the
top and strike the castle gate with the wands, at which the whole mountain vanishes and Goffredo
and Eustazio find themselves on a rock amid a turbulent sea, which they descend. The scene
changes to the enchanted garden of Armida’s palace, where the sorceress is threatening to kill
Almirena, but Goffredo and Eustazio arrive in time to save her. The wands cause the garden to
disappear and the scene becomes open country outside the walls of Jerusalem. The Christian
heroes are reunited and resolve to lead the assault on the city. Argante and Armida, reconciled,
review a march of their troops; the Christian forces also march and the two armies engage in battle.
The assault, led by Rinaldo, is successful, and Argante and Armida are captured. Rinaldo and
Almirena are joyfully reunited. Armida breaks her enchanted wand and resolves to turn Christian.
She and Argante are released and they agree to marry.
The changes in the 1731 revivals affect the plot. In Act 2 Armida does not appear in Almirena’s form
but imitates her voice, and her quarrel with Argante is precipitated by the latter’s admiration of
Almirena’s portrait. Act 3 loses its marches and battle; instead Rinaldo has to contend with the
magically generated obstacles of an enchanted grove. Armida and Argante vanish before the final
scene on a chariot drawn by dragons, remaining defiantly pagan. The only new music written for this
version is the extended accompanied recitative for Rinaldo in which he tackles the magic grove; the 2 of 3 9/16/10 4:31 PM Rinaldo in Oxford Music Online http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/mus... other musical changes were created by the incorporation of eight arias from other operas (five from
Lotario), and by cuts, adaptations or transpositions. In effect the 1731 version is a pasticcio, and,
though a tenor Goffredo may be considered an advantage, the characterization is in general
enfeebled and much of the brash brilliance of the original is lost.
In his preface to the libretto Aaron Hill suggested that the earlier Italian operas heard in London had
been ‘compos’d for Tastes and Voices, different from those who were to sing and hear them on the
English Stage’, and that they lacked ‘the Machines and Decorations, which bestow so great a
Beauty on their Appearance’. He had therefore ‘resolv’d to frame some Dramma, that by different
Incidents and Passions, might afford the Musick Scope to vary and display its Excellence, and to fill
the Eye with more delightful Prospects, so at once to give Two Senses equal Pleasure’. Handel’s
music is certainly both varied and excellent, with much resourceful use of woodwind solos and the
addition of four trumpets to the score to produce a wide range of instrumental colour; Armida’s final
aria of Act 2 includes the unusual feature of improvised harpsichord solos. Some of the musical
material was taken from works Handel had composed in Italy three or four years earlier, often
substantially reworked. Argante’s opening aria, ‘Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto’, taken directly from the
part of Polyphemus in the cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, is incongruous despite its appropriately
bombastic mood, but the other borrowings fit in well. ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’, Almirena’s heartfelt plea
for her liberty in Act 2, was originally a seductive song in the allegorical oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo
e del Disinganno, but the music is far more moving in its new dramatic context.
The dominant character of the opera is Armida, the first of a line of formidable Handelian
sorceresses. She gives an immediate impression of fiery passion in her opening cavatina ‘Furie
terribili’. The mood reappears in the central section of her great lament in Act 2 (‘Ah! crudel il pianto
mio’), contrasting with the grief-laden Largo of the aria’s main section, introduced by plangent solos
on oboe and bassoon. Rinaldo makes a lively hero, rescued from conventionality by ‘Cara sposa’,
his own aria of lamentation on the loss of Almirena in Act 1; the fully worked counterpoint of the
string accompaniment, with occasional chromatic touches, gives it a remarkable emotional power.
Almirena, despite ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’, is a slighter figure, but there is great charm in her birdsong
aria ‘Augelletti’, with its solos for sopranino recorder, and in the playful metrical changes of ‘Bel
piacere’ (taken from Agrippina). Of the remaining characters only the blustering Argante is specially
memorable. The makeweight arias for the ineffective Eustazio are particularly bland, and the
character was cut from revivals after 1713.
See also ARMIDA Anthony Hicks 3 of 3 9/16/10 4:31 PM ...
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