Rinadlo, Opera by G. F. Händel
Rinaldo was George Frideric Handel’s first London opera and a very strong start of this German-born composer’s extended English period. Completed in record time and based on an engaging story, it is one of the best examples of Baroque opera that have survived the test of time. Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence offers you a rare opportunity to travel back through time to the genre’s glorious origins!
After everal Italian operas and oratorios he had composed for theatres in Hamburg, Venice, and Rome, Handel decided to make his presence in London known with another Italian work. Securing a commission from the Queen’s Theatre in 1710, the industrious composer got to work. His English impresario Aaron Hill prepared a plot based on Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, and librettist Giacomo Rossi produced the Italian text.
Rinaldo takes us back to the city of Jerusalem in the times of the First Crusade. Its title character, a Crusader, and his lover Almirena have to overcome the attacks of Argante, King of the Saracens, and Armida, Queen of Damascus and evil sorceress. The plot moves at a rapid pace, and its charismatic lead characters invariably pull the audience into the action. The original production was complete with fire-breathing dragons and winged chariots, a perfect match for Handel’s dramatic and rich score.
Handel composed Rinaldo in a very short period of time (merely two weeks according to some sources), and he saved some time by incorporating themes and musical ideas from some of his previous works. However, the final product sounds undeniably monolithic, bound together by the composer’s buoyant orchestration and keen sense of characterisation.
The lead characters Rinaldo and Almirena arguably steal the show with memorable arias such as ‘Cara sposa’ and ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’. The opera abounds with accompanied recitativos, which help keep the audience engaged and maintain the plot’s pace. Handel’s orchestration choices, such as trumpet blasts and harpsichord solos, are brave and maintain their freshness and excitement even centuries later.
Rinaldo had its premiere at the Queen’s Theatre at the Haymarket in London on 24 February 1711, and it established Handel as a titan of Italian opera in England for decades to come. Deservedly, it was the most often performed opera during the composer’s lifetime, and it has enjoyed revivals around the globe ever since.