Reviewed by Wendy and Roy Curran
Glyndebourne ended their week at Milton Keynes with Handel’s opera – Rinaldo. They did not disappoint with the adaptation of this 3 Act opera which so enthralling that the subtitles were not initially noticed!
Director Robert Carsen transforms the audience into the power struggles of the Crusades by way of a contemporary independent school setting. The set and lighting team supported the on stage action so well that the story could be understood without the use of the subtitles. The conflict between the crusaders and the Saracens was intelligently reflected through the use of gender and costume as Act One opened onto an empty classroom to be filled with the representation of teenage boys. The subtle interference of the Saracen mistress and sorceress Armida is shown as she enters as a school mistress with ‘her girls’. Her undertaking to cause conflict between the Christians and Rinaldo in order for the Saracens to stand a chance of winning the war is set in action as the class appears to bully Rinaldo over his photograph of his love interest Almirena.
Act One opens in an empty classroom until Rinaldo enters with other students representing the crusader army. We are introduced to his love for Almirena as he is kissing his photograph which is snatched and torn up. The power play between Rinaldo (played to perfection by the counter tenor Jake Arditti) and Goffredo is shown as Goffredo enters as the head teacher punishing Rinaldo for an indiscretion (having cigarettes), though Goffredo’s relationship as father to Almirena is not realised in this translation until the end of Act One when he is distraught at her kidnap.
Arditti’s acting made the story, he grew from someone with a schoolboy crush into a man with power, his vocals were at such a pitch, faultless and high enough to be indistinguishable from soprano voice at time!
The casting of the performers was perfect with James Hall – another counter tenor – as Goffredo. His beard and height gave the air of authority required of a commander of the Crusades, as did his difference in costume when the crusaders changed from schoolboy uniforms to breastplates.
Almirena – played by Anna Devin – gave vocals on a par with Rinaldo’s counter tenor. Her Christian purity was shown as a blond girl as opposed to the the dark haired Saracens. Her full length gown and crystal sweet voice showed her vulnerability with an honesty and purity not lost on the audience.
The trio of counter tenors was completed with the appearance of Eustazio played by Tom Scott-Cowell. His stage presence and power were tempered with his ability to act as the go between and peacekeeper between Rinaldo and the other Crusaders.
Argante – played by Aubrey Allicock – a stout powerful actor with a voice to match, gave full authority as the enemy leader, whilst Lacquelyn Stucker’s strong powerful vocals gave her Armida her power and dominance. The malice in her voice in Stucker’s voice gave her sorceress character truth with the ability to switch from malice and strength th mock purity and serenity.
With set changes from the classroom to sea to war on a football pitch, the audience was taken on a voyage which caused some titters in the audience (most notably as the crusaders rode off on their steeds – pushbikes, as Ronaldo appears with his ‘donkey’ – a scooter! All good operas need comedy!)
The final act of winning the war was represented as a football match. The shout of Rinaldo scoring the winning goal gave a more contemporary feel to it! Using a ball upon a cane for a controlled visualisation of the battle was inspiring and visually exciting and effective.
Each act went so quickly, a three hour opera went in no time. Entertaining all the way through!
The live orchestra was once again spectacular, a testament to the orchestra leader Richard Milone and gives this final opera of the week a definite ‘I want to see again’!
For more information and tour dates for Glyndebourne operas visit www.glyndebourne.com.
For other shows at Milton Keynes Theatre visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or call the box office on 0844 8717652.
Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK9 3NZ