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Rinaldo_Jake Arditti and Alexandra Oomens_PinchgutOpera_Credit_Cassandra Hannagan

rinaldo by handel – pinchgut opera

It’s a knock out!

Both circle and stalls were full for the opening night of Pinchgut Opera’s much awaited production of Handel’s Rinaldo in Sydney’s City Recital Hall. Known to be his most celebrated opera, the work features glorious music including arias you will recognise (particularly if you’ve seen the movie Farinelli), a clear cut story blending historical settings with magical themes.

Orchestral Leader Matt Greco took an unusually long time tuning the orchestra. The audience soon discovered by announcement that the performance would be recorded for ABC Classic. This detail instantly changed the perspective of the audience. Now they knew they were no longer just observing but had become a part of the recorded show. All phones really were silenced, any coughs, dropped items and noise was kept to a minimum and applause stepped up a notch or two.

Theatre reviews Erin Helyard with Orchestra of the Antipodes perform Handel opera Rinaldo November 2023
Erin Helyard directs Orchestra of the Antipodes in the overture to Handel’s Rinaldo. Photo credit Cassandra Hannagan

Artistic Director Erin Helyard was very warmly welcomed into the auditorium. His overture with Orchestra of the Antipodes was extraordinary. A world class quality with astounding crispness and unity. Everyone knew the recording red light was on.

The story of Rinaldo is set right at the end of the 11th Century at the time of the first Crusade. Two kingdoms are warring. One of the kingdoms is ruled by Prince Goffredo who has a daughter Almirena very much in love with the knight who leads the army, Rinaldo. The other King Argante has a mistress Armida and she is involved in the Dark Arts. So, it’s essentially a war between light and dark.

The plot has been altered a number of times since its premier in 1711. The Pinchgut Opera version has followed some of these alterations with at least one scene and a few characters removed to simplify the story and reduce the duration.

In typical Pinchgut style, the sets by Designer Simone Romaniuk are simple and clever in their versatility. A beautiful arch of clouds was reflected in the outline of neon pipes suggesting more arches. They flicker to show magic is afoot. Revolving black panels allow performers to either look into their mirrored surface or appear and disappear efficiently. Costumes were contemporary but felt completely acceptable. It’s interesting how plausible it felt to have characters going off to war in military boots and flack jackets armed with a sword.

Lighting designed by Verity Hampson was stark and focussed, very cohesive with the sets and costumes. The mood changed to a magnificent garden filled with light and colour, contrasting with the mirky grey underwater palace of the sorceress Armida. It was a wonderful team effort and, as usual, a great relief to see this opera company values its performers ahead of special effects.

The cast is small and easy to follow. In the title role is Jake Arditti from the English National Opera who has previously performed the role of Rinaldo for the Bolshoi Theatre. His acting was very natural, voice was powerful and technically brilliant. Such a great treat to have him performing here in Australia.

Rinaldo_Jake Arditti and Alexandra Oomens_PinchgutOpera_Credit_Cassandra Hannagan
Rinaldo Jake Arditti and Alexandra Oomens Pinchgut Opera, photo Credit Cassandra Hannagan

His Almirena was played by Australian Soprano Alexandra Oomens in her 5th production with Pinchgut. Such a pleasure to watch, she is the perfect package with neat, athletic figure matched to a strong and likeable voice. Her growth as an artist has been magnificent to watch. The long list of roles filling out her resume shows she is much in demand with a long career available if she so desires.

Opera reviews Sydney Australia Counter tenor Randall Scotting in Rinaldo by Handel
Countertenor Randall Scotting with Jake Arditti and Alexandra Oomens in the background. Photo credit Cassandra Hannagan.

In the role of her father the Prince Goffredo was another UK singer, Randall Scotting. He has a powerful physical presence on stage, perhaps more so than he realises and could make even more use of it in the character of a war mongering leader. His voice is sturdy and capable though became a little tired by the end of the 3 hour epic adventure. Understandable with such a demanding work.

Our saucy sorceress Armida was played by Western Australian soprano Emma Pearson returning to Pinchgut. Her role gave her a wonderful opening aria to fill the hall with her voice. Her comedic talents were also put to good use. Her lover was Bass Adrian Tamburini as King Argante looking fit and ready. He easily coped with his role musically. Most notable was his acting abilities which carried him through vengeance, gentleness, confusion and a sense of humour. He had no problem expressing his character’s vulnerabilities to the audience. There was a walking stick used intermittently – not really sure what that was about though. You either need it or you don’t.

Sydney Theatre reviews Opera Rinaldo Adrian Tamburini and Emma Pearson for Pinchgut Opera
Bass Adrian Tamburini as Argante and Emma Pearson as Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo for Pinchgut Opera, City Recital Hall in Sydney.

Minor roles were Bonnie de la Hunty and Olivia Payne both playing sirens and attendants. There was room to make their roles more seductive if they chose. Actors Arvin Bhattacharya and Yusuf Can Nayir came in handy with sword play and Marshall arts. Final bows is something they could polish.

During the 17th and early 18th centuries, operas were often a showcase for castrati. These were male singers who were castrated as a child to preserve their pre-pubescent voice. As an adult, their range was similar to a soprano, mezzo or contralto. Using such a high range was a symbol of purity and virtue, suitable for the hero of an Operatic story. (As a male passes through puberty, we say their voice is “breaking” or “cracked” as they drop into a more manly pitch. This is the purity broken.)

For those not so familiar with early opera, it may take a wee while to get used to the first two male singers on stage being what we now call Countertenors, singing in a way we would normally expect from women. This can be confusing in a modern context. Where malleable genders are a trending topic, you might expect them to be effeminate. The direction however, allowed both characters to be completely manly and macho, clearly heterosexual in nature, making the story more simple to navigate than you might think.

Our two principal lovers Rinaldo and the Princess Almirena shared a wonderful chemistry and easily convinced us of their mutual passion for each other. Lovers Argante and Armida were less convincing and settled into a more comedic coupling. They have very little time to convince us in their first scene together. Perhaps as trust grows through the season between the performers, they will relax in each other’s company and more easily convince us that they have a history.

Direction from rising star US Director Louisa Muller was excellent. Many of the arias are based on variations of just a few phrases of words. Muller’s direction made sure no repetition ever felt the same as the previous by providing new busy-ness for the performers throughout the repeats. Muller emphasised the communication between characters and with the audience which made a lot of sense and was very enjoyable to watch. We look forward to hopefully seeing more of her work in the future.

The audience was riveted throughout the 3 hours. You will honestly wonder where the time flew. It’s a smooth flowing story filled with passionate kisses, bold colours, laughs, mystery, magnificent music and talent, both on and off stage.

Rinaldo has got to be the very best Opera production in Sydney this year. Very highly recommended.

Five stars is all I am allowed to give.

Tickets are selling fast. Season closes 6 December 2023.

https://www.pinchgutopera.com.au/rinaldo

Listen to some of the arias https://www.opera-arias.com/handel/rinaldo/

The very famous Soprano’s aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo but often sung by Counter Tenor in a different setting.

Counter Tenor’s aria from the movie Farinelli “Cara Sposa” from Handel’s Rinaldo.

 

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