Glyndebourne Rinaldo review: A night of musical fireworks and vocal gymnasts

Rinaldo performed by Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Picture: Alastair Muir

Rinaldo performed by Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Picture: Alastair Muir - Credit: Alastair Muir

Handel's first opera for the English stage was born in a time of reform. Set in a school-room, Glyndebourne's irreverent production at the Theatre Royal stays true to its pioneering spirit.

What fun it must have been for music lovers in the London of 1711. Handel had just arrived and was determined to write the first Italian opera on an English theme.

His willing conspirator was the opera manager Aaron Hill. The pair of them created Rinaldo, a ground-breaking work of 'proper Grandeur,' set in the Crusades. Their show was full of novel stage machinery and spectacular effects.

Glyndebourne's production, directed by Robert Carsen, updates the original to be less lavish but equally original.

The story plays out in a school-room during a history lesson. One of the boys starts to day-dream. He sees himself as a lionheart of the past: a knight to whom conquering his bullies would be as nothing.

In his fertile imagination, we watch him transform into Rinaldo. Handel's plot is worked through the ups and downs of his teenage feuds. Friends are Crusaders, foes are Saracens. His strict teacher is the wicked witch Armida.

Comic moments abound as bicycles become sturdy steeds, and the chemistry lab becomes a battle ground, fizzing with pyrotechnics.

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The singing is wonderful and there is no let-up for the vocal gymnasts in the cast. At one point, Jake Arditti as Rinaldo exits singing on a bicycle, only to re-appear seconds later on a scooter with an impressive final flourish.

The biggest bravo goes to Madison Nonoa as Rinaldo's girlfriend, Almirena. On Friday night, she had the terrifying job of standing in for soprano Anna Devin. There is nowhere to hide in the bird-like trilling of her role.

But the powerhouse of the evening is Jacquelyn Stucker as Armida. Not only can she sing upside-down, but she can wield a whip and swing a sword as well.

David Bates, conducting in the pit, puts the spark in the musical fireworks.