In a four show run that will begin on Friday, March 4, Opera Vivente is slated to present Handel’s opera Rinaldo. The commonly performed version of the opera is the 1711 version; however, John Bowen, Vivente’s general director says that “the 1731 revision “remains a genuine rarity and this is, we believe, the premiere performance in the United States.” In a characteristically bold move, Vivente will perform the 1731 version.
According to Bowen, the rationale behind producing this rarity is not merely novelty. Rather, Opera Vivente’s productions are subject to the limitations of their performance space (the Grand Hall at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood) and their budget (hardly that of a traditional grand opera company). Therefore, Bowen took into consideration that Handel faced comparable limitations in 1731 when he revised Rinaldo. His theatre faced budgetary restrictions, and the audience of the day preferred less visual spectacle than they had twenty years earlier. With this in mind, Handel scaled back the opera to make it more amenable to the circumstances of the time. Vivente’s production, therefore, makes sense historically as well as fiscally.
According to Vivente’s press release, the plot of Rinaldo is as follows:
Rinaldo takes place during the time of the Crusades. Rinaldo has been promised the hand of Almirena, daughter of the General of the Crusade force, Goffredo, if the city is conquered. Meanwhile, the Muslim Argante and his mistress Armida, Queen of Damascus, thwart those plans by abducting Almirena. Rinaldo sets off in pursuit and is himself captured. With the intervention of a Magician and sundry Spirits, Goffredo eventually restores order and frees Rinaldo who, in the final battle, swings the balance in favor of the Christians. Rinaldo and Almirena are reunited; Argante and Armida are captured and convert to Christianity.
The plot seems frankly as dated and hairbrained as those of the stereotypical opera of which prospective audiences have been famously wary for decades. However, Handel, a master at pleasing his audiences, picked favorite arias from several of his earlier operas, including Lotario, Partenope, Giulio Cesare, and Admeto, and inserted them into Rinaldo in 1731 in an effort to keep the crowds satisfied.
Rinaldo’s cast will include Daniel Bubeck as Rinaldo, Leah Inger as Almirena, Rebecca Ringle as Armida, Douglas Dodson as Argante, Scott Mello as Goffredo, Jason Epps as the Christian Magician, and Sarah Mahon and Emily McCullough as Sirens. Accompanying the singers will be the outstanding period instrument ensemble Harmonious Blacksmith, under the direction of Joseph Gascho. The production, which, as always with Vivente, will be in English, will be directed by John Bowen.
Performances will take place in the Great Hall at Emmanuel Episcopal Church (811 Cathedral St, Baltimore) on Friday, March 4, Thursday March 10, and Saturday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 6 at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $75 and are available via phone at (410) 547-7997 or online at operavivente.org. For additional information, follow Vivente on Twitter at @operavivente.