Georg Frideric Handel


2 July – 22 August 2011
Glyndebourne Festival 2011

Following on from productions of Theodora, Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, Glyndebourne continues to celebrate the genius of Handel with its first staging of Rinaldo, the work with which he made his sensational London debut – and the first Italian opera specifically created for the British stage.

Loosely based on Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata – an already wildly fantastical fictionalisation of the Christian ‘liberation’ of Jerusalem during the First Crusade – Rinaldo was consciously intended to marry the new style of aria-led Italian opera seria with the spectacular scenic effects favoured by such native English ‘semi-operas’ as Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. As a result, Rinaldo not only boasts one of Handel’s most richly enticing scores but is also, as the Spectator put it after the premiere in 1711, ‘filled with Thunder and Lightning, Illuminations, and Fireworks’.

Directed by Robert Carsen, who made his Festival debut with L’incoronazione di Poppea in 2008, Rinaldo is conducted by Ottavio Dantone, Music Director of the acclaimed Italian period ensemble Accademia Bizantina. The cast is headed by Sonia Prina in the title-role of the heroic crusader, with Sandrine Piau as his beloved Almirena, Brenda Rae as the seductive Saracen sorceress Armida, and Luca Pisaroni (last summer’s Leporello) as her duplicitous ally Argante, the King of Jerusalem.

A new production for the 2011 Festival.
Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

This new production is generously supported by Carol and Paul Collins, through Glyndebourne Association America Inc.

Listen to the Rinaldo podcast (14 mins)

Director Robert Carsen and Dramaturg Ian Burton talk to James Whitbourn about Handel's Rinaldo.

Edition by David R. Kimbell by arrangement with Bärenreiter-Edition, Kassel and Faber Music Ltd, London

Setting: During the first Crusade

Act I

Goffredo, helped by his brother Eustazio, is leading the Crusader army in its siege of Jerusalem. Goffredo’s daughter Almirena is loved by the knight Rinaldo. Goffredo tells Rinaldo that he may marry his daughter if he is victorious in battle. A herald announces the approach of Argante, general of the enemy Saracen army. Argante requests a three-day truce, to which Goffredo assents. Alone, Argante waits for his lover Armida, the powerful sorceress and Saracen Queen. She appears and informs Argante that their only chance of victory lies in depriving the Christian forces of Rinaldo’s support. She herself is prepared to undertake this task.

Rinaldo and Almirena reaffirm their love. Suddenly, Armida and her forces attack them and abduct Almirena. Goffredo and Eustazio arrive. When the distraught Rinaldo tells them what has happened, Eustazio suggests that the Christian Magus will be able to help them. Rinaldo leads them all in their mission to rescue Almirena.

Short interval of 25 minutes

Act II

Near a lake, Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo are struggling to find the Christian Magus, when suddenly a beautiful woman appears in a boat. She promises Rinaldo that she will lead him to Almirena. To his companions’ dismay, Rinaldo impulsively jumps on board, and the boat vanishes.

Almirena is now Armida’s captive. She is guarded by Argante, who confesses that he has fallen in love with her. He promises that he will defy Armida and free Almirena if she returns his love, but she rejects him.

Rinaldo, now also a captive, is brought before Armida. He angrily demands that Almirena be set free. Against her will, Armida finds herself falling in love with her enemy. She attempts to seduce him by magically transforming herself into Almirena. Rinaldo, suspecting trickery, rejects her.

Argante now appears and, mistaking the transformed Armida for Almirena, repeats his earlier declarations of love. Armida, outraged by his infidelity, vows vengeance and departs in fury.

Dinner interval of approximately 85 minutes


Goffredo and Eustazio finally find the Christian Magus, who gives them the magic powers they need to enter Armida’s palace unharmed.

Armida is about to kill Almirena. Rinaldo, still a prisoner, is powerless to prevent her, when suddenly Goffredo and Eustazio come to the captives’ aid. Goffredo, Almirena and Rinaldo rejoice at being finally reunited.

Argante and Armida, now reconciled, prepare their troops. Goffredo’s army also advances, led by Rinaldo, and the battle commences. The Crusaders are victorious. Rinaldo and Almirena celebrate their love, while Armida and Argante accept their defeat. Goffredo forgives the enemy and sets them free, as they all join in a chorus of reconciliation.

Robert Carsen

Creative team

Conductor Ottavio Dantone
Director Robert Carsen
Designer Gideon Davey
Lighting designer Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet
Movement director Philippe Giraudeau
Dramaturg Ian Burton

Cast includes

Rinaldo Sonia Prina
Goffredo Varduhi Abrahamyan
Eustazio Tim Mead
Almirena Anett Fritsch / Miriam Khalil (9 July)
Armida Brenda Rae
Argante Luca Pisaroni / Riccardo Novaro (17 and 21 July)
A Christian Magician William Towers

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Audio files: 

Audio extracts courtesy of Decca.

This recording is available to buy from the Glyndebourne Shop.

Brenda Rae as Armida and Luca Pisaroni as Argante in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Anett Fritsch as Almirena in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Brenda Rae as Armida, Glyndebourne Chorus and dancers in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
William Towers as Christian Magus, Glyndebourne Chorus and dancers in the 2011 production Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Sonia Prina as Rinaldo and Brenda Rae as Armida in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Sonia Prina as Rinaldo in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
The 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
The 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper
Tim Mead as Eustazio in the 2011 production of Rinaldo. Photo: Bill Cooper


We hugely enjoyed the performance, and loved the schoolroom conceit which, in my view, did not detract from the opera. However, I agree that Rinaldo, although competent, would have been better played by another: dare I say Tim Mead (Eustazio), who had the voice of an angel and was deservedly recognised by the crescendo of applause he received? I also agree that synchronicity was lacking, although I appreciate the vocal gymnastics were extremely challenging.
[BTW, call me old fashioned, but I did think the conductor was a little sartorially challenged!]

Congratulations to all on this inspired prodcution.The singing amd music was sublime. The direction and creativity was exemplorary and reminded me of the brilliance of Julius Ceasar and few years ago. I thought the school room scenes were exciting and innovative and please take me to hell with Armeida no point in going to heaven if Debrah Rae is in the other place. Thank you !!

Grey. Like the Macbeth of the last two seasons, last year's Cosi, this year's Don. What's wrong with colour?

Only one genuinely 'male' voice amongst the principles. The trouser roles were very confusing for the first few minutes.

The onstage comedy seemed, at times, at odds with the music. If Handel had wanted to write a ballet score for a schoolboy fight, it wouldn't have been this overture.

I guess it's not thought politically sensible at the moment to stage an opera where Christian and Moslem armies set about each other with swords, lances and scimitars (let alone AK47s, roadside bombs and unmanned aircraft), but hockey and lacrosse sticks? Really?

OAE superb, as were the singers. 5 out 5 for both. But the production? A minus score, I'm afraid.

BTW - I really did enjoy Magus, like a falsetto Billy Connolly disguised as a mad chemistry teacher. Every school has one!.

BTW2. That big lute in the orchestra is a Theorbo. But I expect you knew that.

The concept underlying the production seems (to me) to be of an adolescent schoolboy confronting and dealing with his external problems and inner demons by creating a fantasy world where the events and characters of the opera Rinaldo merge with characters and situations of his real life in school. It would seem that the character is terrified by women but at the same time longs for a girl at school. At the end one feels he is a much more mature character. A critical event in his development is him and other boys dressing up in girls' clothes-clearly highly symbolic!

I think this is all rather interesting, but possibly not original. (I think there may be some room for other interpretations within the basic schoolboy fantasy framework). The basic concept is treated in a very entertaining manner, with there being a huge variety of mood. The mood is often one of "playful irony", being generated by visual gags (with some references to films (eg "ET")) and sometimes by the discrepancy between the elevated music and libretto and the sometimes trivial actions taking place on stage. Sometimes this just didn't seem to work-for me the music in Handel opera is by far the most important element, and I found the sometimes ironic approach had the effect of forcibly disengaging me from the often noble or impassioned music (which itself is always lovely), an experience I didn't really enjoy. The production therefore seemed to undermine the music at times.

From the musical perspective, the performance was good (say 4 out of 5). The main thing I found unsettling was that occasionally there seemed to be a lack of synchronicity between a singer and the orchestra. I wasn't 100% enthusiastic about the singing of Sonia Prima , but she looked just right in the role as conceptualised in the production. I'm sure, though, that the musical wrinkles will soon be ironed out.

Oops. I too, don't think this worked. I love the innovation and creativity of Glyndebourne but found the setting and theme of this production very distracting. I too, would have preferred a counter tenor and a more substantial person in the role of Rinaldo but the singing and music were wonderful.

The bicycle works! (well on the 9th July performance). Well done to everybody: musically stunning - and the orchestra were clearly enjoying themselves - acting good, perhaps production still needs a bit of polish. All in all though a very satisfying evening. Thank You.

Wonderfully conceived, thoughtful, inventive and witty. Ideal Glyndebourne fare. Musically great too!

I am amazed at some of these comments. The production was extraordinarily conceived, beautifully realised and very well rehearsed. It was also extremely musical, so it seems wrong to me to say that they didn't listen to the music. Rinaldo is a very difficult work, quickly put together and quite a jumble of styles. Not at all like Handel's later pieces, which have such emotional depth (like Alcina, Xerxes or Ariodante). The production was funny where it needed to be, moving where it needed to be and worrying where it needed to be. The storyline confusingly only touches briefly on the Crusades, or magic and seems to change course constantly. This staging clearly developed the characters and made for a satisfying evening of theatre. Have any of you seen any other productions? Have a look at some of the scenes from a "classical" production such as the one from la Scala which can be seen on Youtube. I can't believe Glyndebourne audiences would prefer to see that, and to judge from the delight around me, the negative comments are vastly in the minority. I agree that a countertenor might be better for such a role, particularly in this conception. Also I heard that Rinaldo was supposed to appear on a flying bicycle at the end of Act 1 but there must have been some sort of technical problem at the first night, perhaps after the power cut so it was sad it didn't materialise. It would have been an effective modern way of referring to the baroque flying machines. I hope Glyndebourne continues to offer us such exciting stagings in the future!

Like many others I think it would be good to have a counter tenor in the male (Rinaldo) role. The woman didn't really look the part. Didn't like the production and can't think how it got 4 stars in many of the papers. They must have just listened to the music with their eyes closed.

How extraordinary! The recent ENO production of Britten's setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream used almost exactly the same production concept - viz, set in a school with alumni regressing to their childhood. And of course the play within a play. In spite of the daft staging there was superb singing from countertenor Iestyn Davies and the rest of the "dream cast including Anna Christy as Tytania, the outstanding Iestyn Davies as Oberon and the great bass baritone Sir Willard White as Bottom and not to mention the marvellous tenor Allan Davies as Lysander. That probably explains why your countertenor went missing!!

I was very anxious about seeing this new production, but my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My parents on the other hand preferred a more traditional interpretation. A generational thing perhaps? Beautiful evening only spoilt by churlish behaviour of fellow dinner guests in marquee who gave no quarter to elderley and disabled diners who just needed a little more space when they had plenty the other side of them.
Big hand, I think for the elderley and disabled who have such passion for the Arts that they manage to negotiate the dizzy heights of Glyndebourne.

Saw the July 6 performance. It is not that I dislike revionist productions, especially familar operas. I did not object even to Peter Sellars famous Magic Flute all those years ago which at least offered us original ideas in place of the magic. But when this happens to an opera so rarely performed as Renaldo it very sad.

I wonder how long it had been known that this approach was to be taken. Julius Caesar had whtted my appetite so significantly that my anticipation for this production had been keen. The only reinterpretation seemingly offered was that Baroque Opera's take on history is bunkum and so lets see this as a schoolboy fantasy. But the ideas in the music are about romantic ideals and heroism none of which was conveyed in a silly production that gave wonderful singers and a great orchestra no context from which to work. To say that this was a missed opportunity only covers the surface of my response.

Very disappointing!

The damage of over-clever productions of this sort is that they diminish and distort the emotional impact of the work by wrenching the characters and settings out of their context. A charade played for laughs diminishes the opera and sells Handel short.

No more Carsen for us.

I found the first act a bit confusing and was very taken aback by the schoolroom setting, but once I got to grips with it, it was thoroughly enjoyable - act 2 and 3 especially so

Well, I was the one who had wished for a counter-tenor, but in the end I enjoyed the singing greatly - including the poor artiste cut off in mid-flow due to a power cut who had to reprise. However, as a production, it was one of the worst I have seen at Glyndebourne in 20 years of visiting. Not because it was modern and challenging - that's the sort of production I like and generally think Glyndebourne doesn't do enough of - but because it was so antipathetic to Handel. Handel operas are full of deep emotion, but this production was so heartless and ironic, the singers at every turn were being undermined by it. It was as if the production team didn't trust Handel to deliver, that they must always send him up and give the singers 'business' that had nothing to do with, or even contradicted, the subject of their aria: for me, one of the great moments was ruined by having the singer tinker with a bike tyre. Singers, orchestra, composer - marvellous; production - a trahison des clercs.

A rare opportunity to feature a counter-tenor again missed - not so in the Glyndebourne Touring this autumn, I am glad to say.

My first Handel opera so I was looking forward to a lavish production of rich brocades, velvets and satins! what a shock when the curtain went up, however the singing was fabulous and by the third act I was won over.

Imaginative and wonderful, once again Glyndebourne produced something special.We thought we had seen the best of this year with the Meistersingers but we were wrong. Thankyou.

Marvelous adaptation of Rinaldo; the "school" theme works beautifully and the "story within a story" is a superb twist. The role of Rinaldo could do with a proper countertenor, and the first act drags a bit, but is more than compensated for by the second and particularly the third acts. Well worth seeing whether you are a Rinaldo newcomer or an old hand.

Disappointingly cheap production design, bordering on the laughably inappropriate. As an opera ingenue, Glyndebourne to me means big bosomed ladies with lots of rouge and big men with big bass voices. Former conspicuous by their absence; latter in evidence in only one incarnation. Why are most of the male voices mezzosoprano or contralto? Completely taken by surprise. Doesn't seem right to me. I'm no traditionalist, but in this case I think 'As Handel intended' would be a great deal better. Bicycles as horses? Really. Only good for a horse (hoarse) laugh.

'Concept Opera' at its worst. Very unfunny and totally predictable. 'Oh dear' I thought after 15 minutes 'a schoolboy's historical wishful dream' and the only way to end it is a fade back into the opening classroom. Yup. In between, during the long da capo arias, there was nothing to feast one's eyes on. The bit I liked best was the power cut. Would it were permanent. Orchestral playing conducting and singing beyond reproach. Opposite side of the coin from Meistersinger I thought which was a curate's egg. I am really relieved to have invested less cash in this rubbish than in any of the other productions this year. Now I wonder if they will take back my Tour ticket for resale?

what a load of tosh, but such enjoyable and entertaining tosh. super singing and great music making. act 3 so very enjoyable and makes the evening!! well done to all concerned!

Was there no counter-tenor available for Rinaldo? (Still looking forward to first night tomorrow)

Can't wait to hear Sonia Prina and Sandrine Piau in these roles.
Delighted that you are putting on this wonderful Handel opera which he wrote at such a young age.

We can't have too much Baroque opera! The Handel works that I've seen at Glyndebourne (Theodora, Rodelinda, Giulio Cesare) have been brilliant and I'm eagerly anticipating the forthcoming Rinaldo. I'd recommend anyone who's not familiar with these early works to find out what they're missing. It would be great to see some Lully and Rameau at Glyndebourne.

An exciting new production - can't wait!

We have had Rinaldo with Academia Bizantinairected by O. Dantone in Beaune festival last year (2009).
It was a concert version but nevertheless off a high quality.
We hope to see it this year in Glyndebourne.

I'm thrilled that Glyndebourne has engaged Robert Carsen for this Handel production. Carsen's Alcina in Paris (and then Chicago and La Scala) remains, by far, the most powerful, beautiful, and intelligent production of a Handel opera I've ever seen.

So pleased you are doing another Handel opera. Thank you so much.

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